Hildebrandt Rarity?

Sunday, July 20, 2008

America Sucks...

...at espionage and national security. At least according to the early James Bond films.

Which always had me wondering a bit, as Broccoli and Saltzman reportedly aimed the series at what would be popular in America. And Americans ate it up.

But the unquestionable message of the first few films is: Americans are dumber than a bag or rocks.

Hey, Brandine, they're bloggin' about me agin!Let's look at the record, shall we?

Dr. No: Dr. No is using his secret base on Crab Key in Jamaica to test out S.P.E.C.T.R.E.'s new "toppling" system, a way of using radio beams to upset the gyroscopic control of missiles. He's toppling American space rockets, causing much embarrassment for NASA.

Felix Leiter (Jack Lord) can't find a single clue as to what might be going on, even though every single person on the island practically ducks and covers at the mention of Crab Key or Dr. No. But British agent Strangways had figured it out before he was killed. And of 007 did, too, in about 5 minutes. And even though an American missile launch is about to be attacked, Leiter stays behind and lets Bond sort it all out (perhaps he was scared of the dragon!). And, in what will become American style for the whole series, he shows up with the U.S. Navy...after Bond has killed the bad guy and defeated his plan.

Rating: 2 Cletus' (out of a possible 5). I'll give the U.S. a little break here, because the action was in British territory.

No American involvement in From Russia With Love, so let's jump to:

Goldfinger. The first Bond movie set in the U.S.A. Things have got to look better for we Americans, right?!?!?

Wrong. It would be impossible to make Americans look more inept than they did in this movie. The Keystone Cops were more effective.

First off, we have Cec Linder as the least effective Felix Leiter ever. Seriously, all he's good for is carrying messages. "Bond, M says this." "M, Bond's in America." And he just stands around, grinning and shaking his head at good ol' 007's antics. He's clueless and useless.

But wait, it gets worse. Goldfinger is a foreign national doing substantial business on U.S. soil, and we're supposed to believe that neither the FBI nor CIA had any files on him? Hell, Hoover had files on everybody!! Then were supposed to believe that Goldfinger had a dozen of the top mobsters in the country, all at the same time, out to his stud farm. And no one in the U.S. government noticed. No surveillance, no memo, no nothing.

But wait--it gets worse. Chinese troops AND nerve gas AND a nuclear bomb were smuggled into the U.S. And no red flags went up anywhere. China is about to set off a nuclear explosion destroying America's gold stores, destabilizing the world economy, and no one in America notices. China is about to kill 15,000 American troops, and no one has the least inkling. The ONLY way this crisis is averted is because a British agent seduces a lesbian.

Given this level of incompetence, it's pretty hard to believe America even survived the Cold War, let alone won it.

Rating: 5 Cletus'.

Thunderball: Two NATO nuclear bombs are stolen, and S.P.E.C.T.R.E. threatens to blow up a major British or American city. Well, Felix Leiter (Rick Van Nutter) isn't much help. Despite the fact that Largo and his peeps are walking around wearing HUGE-ASS S.P.E.C.T.R.E. rings, and that he's hanging around with the sister of someone from the missing flight, Leiter has no clue. Bond figures it out in a nano-second.

Worse, despite supposedly having already searched everywhere for the stolen plane, the U.S. military can't find it. James Bond in a lone helicopter is able to find it.

Finally, the U.S. Navy gets fooled by the "shell" of the Disco Volante, blowing that up while allowing the hovercraft part to escape.

In their favor, again, it wasn't U.S. territory, and the U.S. did provide the dozens of underwater soldiers necessary to recapture the bombs.

Rating: 3 Cletus'.

You Only Live Twice: Well, it had the first theme song performed by an American, so that counts for something, right?

Otherwise, it's all bad. S.P.E.C.T.R.E. is stealing American space flights (and Russian) as part of a China-backed plot to start WWIII. And America falls for it hook, line, and sinker.

The Americans decide, without any evidence, that Russia must be responsible. They pompously reject Britain's evidence that it's not Russia. And they pledge to be the first to press the button should anything else happen to their space flights.

This is especially damning, because the scenario as portrayed in the movie means that America cannot track ships once they leave orbit. Great tech there, guys. This means that, even though Japan is their sphere of influence, major space launches and landings can take place from there, without their having a frakking clue.

Nope, the Americans can't even watch their own back yard, arrogantly assuming that their first instinct must be right. It's up to modest, intelligent Britain (with the help of a herd of ninjas) to keep America from blowing up the world.

Rating: 4 Cletus'.

No American involvement in On Her Majesty's Secret Service (except, they apparently agreed to pay Blofeld's ransom along with everybody else). So that take us to:

Diamonds Are Forever: Once again, America's intelligence (and political) community are dimwits. A major smuggling ring has been bringing HUGE amounts of diamonds into the U.S. for some time. No one even had any idea, apparently.

Also, it seems, any private citizen can send the government a killer satellite to launch, and they'll be glad to put it into orbit for you. No inspections, no questions asked,apparently. Could have been a payload of nuclear bombs, as fare as Vandenberg is concerned.

It really must be embarrassing to have so many threats to American security originating undetected on American soil. And Willard Whyte is politically connected, so the government won't let the CIA get involved.

I won't fault the U.S. for not having any space defenses prepared, as it was only 1971...but you'd think after the experience of YOLT, they'd have some response prepared (editor's note--just wait until Moonraker).

And when it comes to crunch time, do they send in American agents to confront Blofeld? Nope, just a British agent, even though, as Blofeld points out, Britain hasn't even been threatened!! Then again, Bond does have a good record against Blofeldian schemes, so maybe that made sense. And when attack time comes, they do effectively blow up the platform, which is good because Bond did fail to stop the satellite, and needed the American cover to smash the control room.

Tiffany Case is the first American Bond Girl, and James must have been impressed, because he didn't bed any other ladies the whole movie. But we do show an incompetent American sheriff with a southern accent--sadly, not the last time.

Rating: 3 Cletus'.

I've always found it interesting that American audiences would so fall in love with a movie series that took every opportunity to portray Americans as arrogant, foolish, incompetent and generally inferior to England in every way. Perhaps it was the cultural tenor of the times--America was the strongest economically and militarily, but we had a pretty huge inferiority complex culturally, assuming that almost anything British must be superior to American crassness.

We'll revisit this later, and see how other eras' Bond movie treated we poor, hapless Americans, in different times.


  1. Snell, Love your site. You need to do a ranking of Felix Leiters.

  2. In You Only Live Twice, the Americans jump to the conclusion that Russia is the aggressor, and seem almost eager to start World War III. In Diamonds Are Forever, we hear an announcement that the US president and Soviet leader have assured each other over the hot line that neither intends to attack the other. So, I guess that's something.

  3. Regarding Felix Leiter in 'Dr No':

    'And, in what will become American style for the whole series, he shows up with the U.S. Navy...after Bond has killed the bad guy and defeated his plan'.

    Sorry, Snell, but Leiter's aboard a Royal Navy launch. There's a White Ensign flying on it, the sailors are wearing British military webbing, and one of them is carrying a Bren light machine-gun.

    Another point worth making here was that when the film was made Jamaica was still part of the British Empire, being part of the Federation of the West Indies until August 1962. The Federation had self-government and autonomy, but the British were in charge as far as foreign affairs and defence were concerned.

    What that means in practical terms is that the CIA had to tread carefully when it came to operating in a friendly government's territory. That's why Leiter defers to Bond when it comes to investigating Crab Key. And in fact it reflects the way that the CIA acted in reality when it came to the colonial territories of their European allies during the Cold War. So in this respect the film is actually quite accurate about reflecting reality.