SPECTRE

Monday, June 30, 2008

We Interrupt this Broadcast...

...for the trailer you've all been waiting for:



Shiver down the spine time.

Now you don't have to go see Hancock on Wednesday (unless, of course, you want to...)

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Casino Royale (1967)

Alternate universe #5Peter Sellers. David Niven. Orson Welles. Woody Allen. William Holden. Deborah Kerr. John Huston. Charles Boyer. George Raft. Jacqueline Bisset. Peter O'Toole. Ursula Andress.

How in the name of all that is holy could this film be such a disaster??

Internet movie critic James Berardinelli recently wrote:

The thing about comedies is that you can't trust anyone's recommendations unless you have a thorough understanding of how their sense of humor is constructed. Everyone laughs at different things. Of all movie types, comedies are the most subjective. The equation is simple: Unless the movie offers something else (like the love story of a romantic comedy), those who laugh during a movie will like it and those who don't laugh will think it's a dud. The term "unfunny" means little if taken out of context...

Even the "best" comedies (This Is Spinal Tap, the Monty Python movies) have their detractors and the "worst" (Freddy Got Fingered, The Hottie and the Nottie) have their supporters, indicating that humor truly comes in all flavors.
Which is all a way to delay my having to say: Casino Royale (1967) isn't funny. In fact, it's aggressively non-funny. Re-watching this movie has probably been the most painful thing I have done this year (which, I guess, means I've had a pretty good year so far...but still...).

Which isn't to say that, if you like it, there's something wrong with you. I know people who like this film, and I know of people who love it to pieces. And just as with someone who rates Moonraker higher than I do, or Thunderball lower, I don't question their taste, or intelligence. I simply say, "More power to you. Glad you enjoyed it."

But honestly compels me to also say, "I just don't get it." And as I explain how and why I really, really, really disliked this movie, I want to emphasize that I'm not calling anyone who does like it nuts or stupid or tasteless. But I also don't want to have to append "In my opinion" or "Of course, you may feel differently" at the front of each paragraph. So please, just assume I've got those qualifiers liberally peppered throughout this essay, as I examine the pathetic failure of this dungheap of a movie (of course, you may feel differently).

As Berardinelli notes, nothing fails quite as completely as a failed comedy. In other genres, even if the movie is a complete turd, you usually have some semblance of plot, perhaps some action or special effects, maybe even a performance or two to admire. And as fans of Mystery Science Theater 3000 know, even when a non-comedy completely fails even on those levels, at least you can laugh at those failures. But when a comedy fails, you don't even have that refuge, because how can you laugh at something that was trying to be funny but wasn't??

And the kind of things I'd normally critique in a Bond film--the plot, the editing, the production values--well, the producers and writers and directors just didn't give a freakin' rip about that kind of thing. So how valid is my criticism that nothing in the movie makes sense, when the people who made the movie didn't care if it made sense?!?

How did this happen? After CBS made the TV version of Casino Royale back in 1954, the rights passed from person until they came into the possession of producer Charles Feldman. And suddenly, after Goldfinger and Thunderball, anything James Bond was a hot property. And after the Thunderball lawsuit was settled, Casino Royale was the only Bond property whose rights didn't belong to Eon.

Feldman tried to sell those right to Broccoli & Saltzman, but rejected their offer of half a million as too low. So Feldman decided to make the film himself. But without Sean Connery and the Eon team, he didn't think a "straight" competitor could succeed. So he decided instead to make a Bond spoof.

But wait--that's not all. He decided to have 4 different directors--each of whom would direct their own section of the film, giving that section their own "tone." I know, it sounds like a brilliant idea...but wait, it gets better.

There was no communication between the directors--some say that they were deliberately kept in the dark about what the others were working on--so there was absolutely no uniformity or cohesion between the various sections. With people leaving the project abruptly, and other misfortunes, the list grew to 6 different directors. Val Guest was specifically brought in to try and film "splicing" sequences to try to somehow connect everything together.

There were 3 writers credited with the screenplay, but unconfirmed reports have as many as 7 others contributing to the script. And again, none of these people were apparently communicating with each other. Many of the actors were aggressively ad-libbing and adding their own material, resulting in more radical tone-shifting. Some actors refused to work with others, and some either left the production or were fired midway through, so entire character arcs (such as they were) vanish.

Are we groovy enough for you? ARE WE??The result of this chaos?? I think even the movie's most ardent defenders have to admit that what resulted was an incoherent mess. If I gave you an infinite supply of dry-erase markers and a galaxy-sized white board, you couldn't hope to diagram what happens to whom or why in CR 1967. Characters die off-screen, other characters disappear from the movie for hours at a time, only to turn up with different haircuts later in places where they couldn't possibly be and with no explanation. Spies change sides at random...entire plot lines simply vanish into the ether. Despite the noblest efforts, nothing in one section of the movie links to anything else. Actors who got top billing turn up in 20-second cameos. There are no plot holes, because that phrase suggests that there was an actual plot to have a hole. This movie is all hole, with strands of plot strewn about it haphazardly.

It's unclear how much of the insensibility comes from inept editing, and how much from unfinished segments that were just impossible to link together. There's no bonus or deleted footage on the most recent DVD, and no commentary tracks, so we're left to ponder how something so Bizarro could have happened.

This is what Ian Fleming had in mindFor those who haven't seen this, let me attempt some synopsis. Someone is killing all of the top agents for all of the superpowers. So M and the head of the French, Russian and U.S. intelligence agencies go to find the one, true James Bond. The original Bond (David Niven) had retired after WWI, but MI-6 didn't want to let the world know their best agent was out of action, so they passed the title onto others. Well, this Bond, dedicated to a life of purity and contemplation at his own personal Xanadu, refuses to come out of retirement. So M orders the British army to blow up Bond's house, to force him out of retirement.

Which works, except that M himself is somehow killed in the attack (even though no one else gets a scratch). So Bond takes M's remains to his estate where 12 sexy SMERSH agents (no, this has nothing to do with the SMERSH from the real Bond stories...these guys aren't Russian) are posing as M's widow and daughters. Their goal...seduce James, and thus end the myth of his purity and virtue. Why? Look, questions aren't going to get you anywhere with this movie. So after about a half an hour of tediously unfunny non-titillating smirkfest, Bond causes Deborah Kerr to fall in love with him by acts of manliness, so she helps him kill off the other SMERSH ladies, and then joins a nunnery.

So M goes back to London town to take over MI-6, and decides that henceforth, ALL MI-6 agents will be called James Bond--yes, the females as well--to confuse the enemy. Furthermore, because the enemy is using so many female agents, Bond-Niven sets Bond-Moneypenny on the task of finding an agent who is irresistible to women yet can completely resist them himself. We spend more than 10 minutes finding and training Terence-Cooper Bond, only to have him vanish AND NEVER HAVE ANOTHER LINE OF DIALOGUE IN THE WHOLE MOVIE!! He shows up somehow in captivity at the movie's climax, with no explanation...

Thank God the Pink Panther movies will save my baconThe next random plot thread has Niven-Bond seeking out Vesper Lynd (Ursula Andress). He recruits her by offering her a plea bargain on a tax default charge...there's the James Bond we want, Her Majesty's tax collector!! Anyway, her job is to recruit Evelyn Tremble (Peter Sellers), baccarat expert, to take down Le Chiffre (why? Because, dammit!!). To the sultry tune of "The Look of Love," she seduces him to undertake this dangerous mission. For reasons completely unclear, this includes about 5 minutes of her watching Peter Sellers put on funny costumes and do funny voices, which is nowhere near as amusing as it sounds. She sends Tremble-Bond to Q and his assistant, who, in this movie, are gay haberdashers, which probably wasn't even funny in 1967.

Meanwhile, the next pinball plot development sends Niven-Bond to India to recruit Mata Bond, his illegitimate daughter from Mata Hari (which would have to make her at least 50, even though Joanna Pettet was 23 when this was filmed...STOP ASKING QUESTIONS, DAMMIT!!). After a 5-minute Busby Berkeley dance number (why? WHY?!?), he sends her to Berlin, to break up Le Chiffre's auction of various incriminating photographs to various military groups. I won't say how silly this sequence is...but at one point we break into Benny Hill music. Really.

Hey, Kronsteen!!

I will play no baccarat before its timeGiven that the credits say the film was "suggested by" the Ian Fleming novel, we do eventually get Tremble-Bond to Monte Carlo, were, after being seduced by Miss Goodthighs (Jacqueline Bisset!!), she drugs him. The result...an crazy dream sequence, and the disappearance of Miss Goodthighs from the rest of the movie. We get to the casino, where Orson Welles plays Le Chiffre. And I've got to say, it's too damn bad the Orson never got to play the villain in a real Bond movie, because he's really, really good here. Yeah, it's overly indulgent, as he forced the director to let him do all sorts of magic tricks on screen(!!!), but this piece is the best thing in the movie. You might almost say that Sellers and Welles had a great chemistry....

...Except they didn't. There are many versions of the story, and I'm not here to say which is right. But Sellers and Welles apparently couldn't stand each other, and one (or both?) refused to appear on camera together, so almost the whole baccarat showdown is shot showing only one at a time (although there are 3 wide shots that show them both). Because of his antipathy for Welles (or maybe for some other reason, as I say there are many versions of this tale), Sellers walked off the set and/or was fired. Regardless, I give a few of my sparse plaudits to this scene. It's tense, it's well directed given the ridiculous circumstances, and I actually laughed.

And it plays almost like the book. Bond wins, Le Chiffre kidnaps Vesper, Bond pursues. Then, with no explanation or transition, he's suddenly in Le Chiffe's captivity...missing footage, or just not filmed because Sellers was gone?? We then get a scene with Le Chiffre torturing Tremble-Bond with some funky mind machine, resulting in a crazy 60's psychedelic mind-freak scene, turning into a bizarre scene with Bond menaced by a band of Scottish bagpipers, when Vesper Lynd shows up in Scottish drag and shoots them all with her machine-gun bagpipes, and then she shoots Tremble-Bond. Oy, my head hurts...

Really, there aren't enough drugs...Then a flying saucer lands in Trafalgar Square (really) to kidnap Mata, and whatever sanity there was goes straight out the window. After a lot of doodling around and a surprise reveal of the real villain, we end the way most 60s comedies did (and Blazing Saddles, too--shame on you, Mel Brooks), with a nonsenseical melee involving laughing gas, flying roulette wheels, skydiving native Americans who yell "Geronimo", the French Foreign Legion, and a nuclear explosion.

Straight out of a Toho movie...Did I mention that this move makes no sense?

So what, exactly, was wrong with this movie? The first problem was too little, too late. Feldman
was way behind everybody else in the spy spoof/pastiche department. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. had already been running for years, as had Get Smart. He was behind the Matt Helm movies, and the Flint movies. The idea to spoof Bond wasn't terribly new or innovative at this point.

And the bizarre decision to make the movie in the way they did resulted in a film with no through-line, no structure. Even a spoof movie needs some kind of plot thread the audience can hang onto. The Helm movies, Austin Powers...they were spoofs, but were still legitimate movies in their own right, too, with stories and characters. Casino Royale '67 is just "throw as many things at the wall as you can and we'll sort it out in the editing room." That's not a movie. That's a 2 hour plus episode of Laugh-In without as high a quality of jokes. It's one of those damn Meet the Spartans or Scary Movie IX joints, not worried about being about anything contest just to be.

And finally, on the level of parody, this movie fails as well. Not to sound catty, but there's not a lot of evidence that anybody involved with this picture had actually SEEN a James Bond movie. It's as if they had a tenuous idea of what a spy movie was, and they knew the names Q and M and Moneypenny, and just decided to tell a lot of generic jokes in that framework. By contrast, whatever you think of Austin Powers, there's no doubt that Mike Meyers and Jay Roach have seen and worshipped every Bond film. I could spend a week annotating all of the Bond references in those films (hmmm). Plus, they actually parody the Bond movies. The ridiculous plans, the ludicrous outfits, the insane death traps...Austin Powers actually mocks them, explains why they're ridiculous, and, you know, parodies the Bond films. Casino Royale, never really tries to actually parody the Bond films. It merely apes the same set pieces and expects you to laugh because, well, because the filmmakers tell you how wacky they are.

I applaud your fortitude in surviving this movieThere are some good things in this film. The actors, by and large, give good performances within the constraints of this type of thing. Peters Sellers vacillates being playing it straight and going off-the-wall nuts (gee, Peter Sellers?!?! Who would have thought that??). Ursula Andress is actually fairly good, far outdoing her Honey Rider performance in Dr. No. Deborah Kerr makes something out of the Agent Mimi role. Everyone is trying their best, and no one seems to be sleepwalking (although that doesn't mean they weren't out of control at times).

The music, written by Burt Bacharach and largely performed by Herp Alpert, provides a pretty fun and memorable score. It would be completely wrong for a serious Bond movie, but in this context it works pretty well.

The art direction is surprisingly good, as well. Despite the incompetence of much of the writing and directing, most of the sets are actually pretty cool, although obviously not Ken Adam level. The costumes are all outrageously mod in an early-late-60s way. This movie actually had a larger budget than Thunderball, and a lot of it does turn up on screen.

OK, this is actually good!In summary, even for a Bond completist, it's tough for me to recommend this film, because it almost completely fails even on the level of a Bond take-off. As a cultural artifact of the 60's it has some interest. I won't tell you not to see it, but I will warn you: if this doesn't happen to hit your funny bone, you're in for a long, 2 hour and eleven minute slog.

Charles Feldman had a fairly distinguished career, both as an agent and as a producer. Hell, in one stretch in the 50's he produced The Glass Menagerie, A Streetcar Named Desire, and The Seven Year Itch consecutively. But after this disaster, he never produced another movie, and died only a year later. If only he had sold the Casino Royale rights to Eon, we might have gotten a serious, hard-hitting movie version. But now, we'll never know...

Next week, off to Japan!!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Thunderball

#4Folklore has it that, while recording the title song for Thunderball in the studio, singer Tom Jones fainted while trying to sustain that ridiculously loud and long note at the end of the song. You certainly don't hear that in the performance (unless, of course, they used an alternative take), but it's a great story.

True or not, that is an apt metaphor for the movie Thunderball. The producers reach for something bold and striking and ridiculous, and in the end (according to some) fail. They weren't just making Bond #4, they were making the sequel to the monster phenomenon of Goldfinger, and felt they had to make it bigger and better in every way. They threw everything but the kitchen sink at the screen, and as a result created a bloated, unfocused mess. So some say.

But like the song, I don't see that failure here. Sure, Thunderball has its faults and warts. But I like Thunderball more than most, and I think that it accomplishes most of what it sets out to do.

This was the story Broccoli and Saltzman wanted to do for the first Bond movie, but the legal wrangling over Thunderball forced them to chose Dr. No instead (much, much more on that legal wrangling later in the week). That would have been a very interesting proposition, I think...the Thunderball story done on a much smaller budget, when they weren't quite sure of how to do all the elements of a proper Bond, no teaser...oh, wait, that was Never Say Never Again!!

Anyway, no matter what critiques you want to lay at the feet of Thunderball, you surely can't complain that every dollar of it's budget wasn't up on the screen. The massive sets, the wonderful use of the Bahamas, the 5,000 underwater stuntmen, all the military hardware, the Junkanoo,...no expense was spared, and it all ended up on the screen (even if you can argue that some of it shouldn't have).

This was the first James Bond film to break the 2 hour running time mark (a length that it would only dip below twice more in series history). Is that too long? A lot of critics contend that the final underwater fight is too long and boring, especially after all of the other underwater scenes in the film. Forgive me for disagreeing. Yes, it is long...but is it any longer than, say, storming the volcano in You Only Live Twice, or raiding the oil tanker in the Spy Who Loved Me? And this climactic Thunderball battle has the added advantage of being something no one had ever seen the likes of, before or after. Aside from a couple of minor continuity glitches, the battle is excellently choreographed...you never are lost as to what's going on. The languid, dreamlike pace of the underwater movements contrasts well with the viciousness of the fight, creating the most surreal battle seen I can ever remember seeing. And like most Terence Young directed fight scenes, you believe that this one is to the death for everybody involved. Boring? Balderdash!!

Still, there are cuts to be made. Unlike the underwater fight scene, the underwater "disguise the plane and take away the nukes" scene takes literally forever, and really stalls the film's momentum. And there's just too much going on once Bond gets to the Bahamas that doesn't advance the plot at all. The "Quist being caught in the hotel room and then fed to the sharks by Largo" sequence, for example, eats up a lot of screen time without telling us anything we didn't already know. And it just starts the perpetual back and forth of Largo trying to kill Bond, Volpe saying no not yet and besides I get to kill him, Largo makes a feint and Bond and fails, Bond discovers a tiny piece of info that he should have already known, Volpe makes a feint at Bond, ad nuaseum. The whole center of the movie could have used some real tightening.

It's a party, and the film producers are paying!!Not the Junkanoo, though. Wow, that is so well done it blows my mind. They actually paid all expenses to stage a full Junkanoo parade 8 months early (or 4 months late?). The actors and cameras were basically left to fight their way through the parade and crowds as best they could. The result is very real tension and confusion on the screen, and another feather in Terence Young's cap.

The film's ending came across as particularly flat. After a somewhat ridiculous final battle marred by the deus ex machina of Kutze suddenly changing sides for no particular reason, and by the terrible looking sped-up footage--which apparently has the Disco Volante traveling at nearly warp speed and constantly passing the same stock footage--we're ready for a final bit of Bond/Domino romance. But no...she just sits in the raft looking bemused while we see every nanosecond of Bond hooking up his balloon harness. And then the rescue plane drags them away through the air, and we don't even get a final one-liner or a final kiss!! BOO!!

Inspired the Van Morrison song?Otherwise, the Bond/Domino romance is handled particularly well, too. I can't say enough about how unbelievably beautiful and sexy Claudine Auger is, and the fabulous wardrobe they give her doesn't hurt, either. The underwater scenes are exotic and romantic, and the stars have a great chemistry together. And of course she gets the death blow against Largo. (But compare with For Your Eyes Only, where Bond spends the whole movie warning Melina not to kill in revenge...perhaps because of some ill consequences for Domino after the events of this movie?? That would be sad...) Domino is certainly in the running for the top Bond girl ever.

I have to get some of those mink gloves!And speaking of Bond girls, in my opinion this is the most babelicious Bond movie EVER. Look at what we get: we start with his French contact, played by Mitsouko (a Japanese French agent? How exotic!!). Then we get our first scenes with Fiona Volpe (Luciana Pasluzzi), the sensual killer. Then we go to Shrublands, and spend a lot of time with Patricia Fearing (Molly Peters). After Bond steals her from Count Lippe, we have some some of the hottest scenes ever (think mink gloves). I was always disappointed they never brought her back, because she sizzled. Then we meet Bond's Bahamas "assistant," Paula (Martine Beswick, who was one of the gypsy girls in From Russia With Love). Then we meet Domino. In terms of both quantity and quality, this is an unrivaled bevy of beauties. Talk about a cornucopia...

So bad, she's good!Speaking of Fiona, what a great henchman!! Clearly more competent than all of those around her, she proves a much better opponent for Bond than either Lippe or Largo or Vargas. She's the one who's a match for 007, and she's the one who comes closer to taking him out than anyone else in the movie. She also has quite the classic death scene. (I have to say, every time I rewatch Thunderball, I find myself disappointed again by Vargas. Yes, he has a great death and the classic death quip, and everyone remembers Largo's classic description of him, but he doesn't actually do anything. He can't keep Paula from killing herself, he's always chasing Bond but never catching him...really, besides his death he doesn't have a single memorable moment in the whole film!!)

Making eyepatches sexy again??As for Largo himself, well, S.P.E.C.T.R.E #2 talks a good game, and he sure looks like your prototypical Bond villain. But man, he is just pretty pathetic. While barely working up a sweat, Bond beats him badly at cards, beats him at skeet shooting without even looking at the target, steals his woman, kills his top henchpersons, and thwarts his master plan. And Largo consistently can't seem to do anything about it. He's no Goldfinger, that's for sure.

And let's talk about that master plan. I have a few suggestions, Emilio. Number one, don't hang around the sister of the man you killed to get the bombs. She's the only link Bond has. If you sent her to California or Spain for a vacation, Bond never gets anywhere near you! Plus, keeping her around is good way to get yourself killed when she finds out what you've done to her brother. There's a good question--did Largo take up with Domino before the operation got underway, and that's how he found Derval? Or did they target Derval first, and that led to his becoming infatuated with Domino? Or was it all some ridiculous coincidence?

Number two, why in the world keep a bomb, let alone both bombs, so close to where the plane went down? If the plane is found, you should know they'll intensify the search in that area. Your first step after securing the nukes should have been to send one of them to S.P.E.C.T.R.E. Island or somewhere secure. Send the one you intend to use ahead to Miami. Whatever you do, don't keep both bombs close to the plane AND close to Domino. That's just begging for Bond to find you.

Third, and most importantly, DON'T GIVE SOMEBODY A SEVEN DAY DEADLINE FOR NUCLEAR BLACKMAIL!!! What, are you a complete moron? (In fairness, that one might have been Blofeld's fault...). 7 freakin' days?? That's begging to be found. Why give them time to find you, or find a way out? Seven days, with the bombs just sitting in one place?!?!?!?! Man, Matt Helm could have found you in that time frame. Next time, give 'em 24 hours. Sheesh...

Anyway, in contrast to Largo's buffoonery, Bond is particularly effective this time around. Perhaps they had realized what a nimrod he was last movie, or perhaps it's just the natural evolution of the character. But in this film, he's confident and ruthless, and perhaps becoming just the tiniest bit overconfident. After the vicious murder of Boitier, 007 takes the time to throw flowers onto his corpse. After investigating Lippe's suite at Shrublands, he takes time to swipe a piece of fruit. Reckless, or self-assured? This is the Bond most people think of, the perfect balance of charm and steel and pluck, the gentleman who can kill at a moments notice, who can woo every lady (hey, Fiona claimed she wasn't impressed, but she still went back for seconds!), and S.P.E.C.T.R.E. and its goons are no match for him. Sean Connery is razor sharp in this film, never letting his bemused winks at the audience get out of hand, and clearly relishing everything he's asked to do.

This film also has the best Bond/M moments. Yes, they joust. But twice, when outsiders question Bond's competence, M swiftly and strenuously rises to his defense, "If 007 says he saw this man, than that's enough for me." This is a good working relationship, where M doesn't let his annoyance at some of Bond's habits get in the way of his absolute respect for the man's abilities. We would rapidly lose this quality between them, as later films (especially under Moore, when M could barely seem to tolerate his presence) tended to devolve the relationship into M seemingly putting up with Bond only because he has no other choice. It wasn't until Brosnan/Dench that we regained the level of respect we see here.

In fact, in terms of dialogue at least, this is a very sharp script. There were so many hands involved at various points, that the plot suffers the tiniest bit, both from padding and some plot peculiarities. But the dialogue sparkles throughout, and I'm glad to give most of the credit for that to Richard Maibaum. The Bond/M scenes above, the hilarious put downs Fiona Volpe aims at Bond (not to mention mocking the end of Goldfinger!), Bond and Domino, Bond and Patricia Fearing...the dialogue sparkles throughout. Bravo!!

Ken Adam? The man just goes crazy. Check out the secret S.P.E.C.T.R.E. headquarters:

Couldn't we try teleconferencing, #1?...and the frankly insane MI-6 conference room:

If there's lots of headroom, it's a Ken Adam set
Couldn't we just have done a hand-out, sir?Fact: Ken Adam is god. Another fact: Ken Adam has a new book coming in November, which looks to be a must for fans of the Oscar-winning production designer.

The teaser also reinforces the "Bond swagger/S.P.E.C.T.R.E. lame" idea of the movie. How big a pussy is S.P.E.C.T.R.E. #6, that he needs to fake his death and pose as his own widow, just to hide from Bond?? Seriously, grow a pair. 007, meanwhile, saunters in casually, so supremely confident of his ability to single-handedly knock off Bolthier that he's almost overcome in the antique-smashing brawl. His gesture to toss the flowers almost gets him caught by Boltier's goons. And rather than dispatch those same goons, or make a thrilling escape, the movie is content to merely make fools out of them, letting us watch as they're taken out by essential a big fire hose. Has the playfulness edged just the tiniest bit over into smirk and snark?

Which brings us back to the theme song. It was supposed to be "Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" by Dionne Warwick, but at the last minute the producers decided they had best have the film title in the theme song (a novel concept that, obviously, they didn't apply the same rule to Octopussy or Casino Royale (2006)...) And the effort put out by Tom Jones, and John Barry, has all the strengths and flaws of the movie. It's bold, exciting, adventurous. At the same time, it's over the top, desperate to top Shirley Bassey's Goldfinger, and (according to legend) too ambitious to be sung without passing out. Gloriously fun, but not 100% successful. And that's the movie in a nutshell--it's not Goldfinger or From Russia With Love, but that's no reason to damn it with faint praise.

Of course, the real question is, would that constant need to top themselves, and the increasing smugness and jokiness, continue? And how would it effect the series? Only time would tell...

SNELL'S RANDOM NOTES AND OBSERVATIONS:

**Maurice Binder's first "live action" title sequence makes its appearance here...we've come a long way from just projecting scene onto a woman's body, and Bond title sequences would never be the same again.

**While we're ragging on Largo's plan, what exactly is the profit margin S.P.E.C.T.R.E.'s plan? Sure, $100 million was a good chunk of change back in 1965, but look at the costs: an underwater cavern carved out just to hide the bombs, underwater landing lights, the specially-outfitted Disco Volante, hundreds of goons, all the training and prep for Angelo...I'm just saying, they might have been better off sticking to blackmail and drug running...

**One final question about the plan: Angelo says he's spent two years in training, surgery, etc, preparing for this role. Even if we allow for some exaggeration, the question is this--how did S.P.E.C.T.R.E. know, 2 years earlier, that Derval would be assigned to a training flight with nukes? I mean, what if Derval were transferred, or retired, or died, or was never assigned to a nuclear flight? That would have been a heck of a lot of time and effort down the crapper, eh? Or did Lippe have many doubles in preparation, ready to replace any one of several NATO officers?

**Oh, and NATO--is it really a good idea to have live nukes on your training flights? Really??

**You do have to admire S.P.E.C.T.R.E. perks--like these kicky T-Shirts!!

We moonlight at the GAP**As I mentioned above, we do finally get a look at many of S.P.E.C.T.R.E's smaller scale schemes: assassinations, drug running, consulting on robberies. If only they'd stayed in the background like this, they might have stayed of Bond's radar. But nooo, they had to get nuclear bombs...

**BLOFELD KILL!! Poor, #9, but very relieved #11...

**Note for all villains: if you're going to be secret members of a secret group, it's not a good idea to wear HUGE freaking ring with that organization's symbol on it. Note Largo:

Thing-Ring, do your thing!And Volpe:

But it goes with my earrings!!Man, can you make Bond's job any easier?? Why not just wear T-Shirts saying "Hi, we're S.P.E.C.T.R.E!!"??

**Rick Van Nutter--what can be said? Uhhh....seriously, was Eon's goal to find the blandest Leiter possible every film, so Bond looks better? I mean geez, talk about a boring performance (and to be fair, boringly written)! No surprise that we're done with Felix for a few films...

I'm a generic American!**Another Terence Young trademark: a hotel clerk checks out James Bond's ass again:

Oh, Sean, if only you were wearing a kilt!**Look--other Double-O agents!! All of them!! in one room!

Peek-a-boo Double-O'sIt's cute how they manage to not really show you the faces of any of them. I wonder...which one is Alec Trevelyan?? They're all male, apparently...

**Bond Score: you may disagree with me, but I think it's pretty clear that Bond scores with both Mitsouko ("Later, perhaps") AND Paula (c'mon, they shared a suite!!). And in Fiona, Patrica, and Domino, and that's 5. An all-time record! Cumulative Bond Score: 16!

**How big a loser is Largo?:

I also dock his pay for this time!!He has to play his employees at in order to win at baccarat. He has to take money from his hard-working henchmen!! And Vargas, I thought you were passionless!! Gambling??

**The instrumental version if Mr Kiss Kiss Bang Bang showed up during the scene at the Kiss Kiss Club..but really, is that an appropriate song for a loud bongo solo in the middle??

(Shut up, dummy, you're messing with an obvious homage to The Man Who Knew Too Much) (I know, but come on...a bongo solo??)

They neglected to put it in the closing credits this time, but JAMES BOND WILL RETURN IN...wait a minute...what's happening...some freak break in the space-time continuum...JAMES BOND WILL RETURN IN..a comedy version of Casino Royale??!!??

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Because he's a Psychotic Maniac?

The one thing that has bugged me more than anything else about Goldfinger over the years is this:

Why in the world does Auric Goldfinger kills the American gangsters when he does, in the way he does?

Let's look at the scenario we're given. Goldfinger is using several mob groups to bring in various things he'll need for Operation Grand Slam--they smuggle in the gas canisters, smuggle the Chinese soldiers across the border, etc. They all worked independently of each other, for the promise of $1 million in gold, without knowing any other groups were involved.

No, gentleman, I expect you to die!Goldfinger calls them all together the day before Grand Slam, and promises them all $10 million if they'll help him carry out the robbery the next day. After a long lecture and some incredibly elaborate displays, the gangster Solo (Han? Napolean?) decides he wants no part of it, so Goldfinger escorts him out, gives him his gold, and has Oddjob drive him to the airport. Except he really has Oddjob shoot him, and compact the car with Solo still in it, and bring the wreck back so the gold can be salvaged from it. Meanwhile, before he can return to the rumpus room from Hell to receive the agreement from the other gangsters, his goon Kisch turns on the gas, killing the lot of them.

Now, maybe I'm dense, but this sequence doesn't make a lot of sense to me. I can understand Goldfinger's wanting them dead. You don't want to leave witnesses, and if they somehow got wind of the fact that their efforts had led directly to a nuke being used on U.S. soil, at least some of them might prove to be patriotic hoods, and turn him in and perhaps have all his gold assets seized while he was in hiding.

And maybe he was just greedy, and didn't want to have to pay off their fees.

But if that's the case, why in the world the elaborate dog and pony show?? Why not gas them all while they're waiting for Goldfinger in the first place??

I know what your first answer is going to be--because Goldfinger is boastful, and wanted to show off his plan to the gangsters before he killed them. But if that's the case, why does he lie about what his plan is? If he's going to brag, why not brag about his true plan, since he's going to kill them anyway?

And why go through the elaborate deception with Solo? Since you're going to kill them all anyway in 2 minutes, why in heaven's name the charade of allowing him to leave? And even so, why the car crusher? Shooting him wasn't enough? Shoot him, take the gold out of the trunk, and dispose of his body with the 15 gassed hood bodies!! And what if three hoods had refused Goldfinger's proposal? Three crushed cars??

So, we have Goldfinger inviting the hoods over, planning to kill them, boasting to them about some plan other than the one he's doing, and killing them before he finds out their response. Even by monomaniacal standards, that's nuts.

I suppose you could argue that Goldfinger was just testing himself, by seeing if he could convince professional criminals to go along with (what Bond immediately sees is) an impossible plan. Or you could argue that since Goldfinger spent all that money making a fancy showroom out his rec room, he wanted to get some use out of it.

Seriously, how much did all this cost??But really, there are two reasons why these scenes are in the movie.

The first is, Goldfinger's speech about the "masterpiece of crime" comes nearly verbatim from the novel, and I'm betting screenwriter Richard Maibaum couldn't bring himself to cut it. Of course, in the book, Goldfinger did plan to actually rob Fort Knox, and he did need additional men and supplies from the mobsters to pull it off (plus, he intended to used them as Judas goats). Ironically, the twist Maibum put on the book's plot--it wasn't really a robbery, it was a terrorist attack--made that same speech irrelevant in the movie.

Peek-a-booThe second reason is, if Bond doesn't overhear Goldfinger give that presentation, he has no idea what's going on, and can't let Felix Leiter know how to set the trap. Remember how spectacularly ineffective Bond is in this movie...he fails in every aspect of his mission. And Goldfinger refuses to fall for the "villain reveals everything to the captured hero" cliche. Unfortunately, that bit of good writing created a conundrum: Bond is completely in the dark, and has no way to get enlightened, unless he overhears Goldfinger boasting. And Goldfinger WOULDN'T boast to anyone who wasn't immediately about to die. So the gangsters HAD to die, or Bond would never know what was going on until he was strapped to the bomb the next morning.

And those are the reasons we had to have the "let's kill all the gangsters" scene, even though it made no sense.

Plus, he was a sociopath. Duh.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

The "L" Word

For those interested, let me provide you a couple of brief passages from the Goldfinger novel. As you know, the movie wouldn't (& doubtless couldn't) frankly discuss the issue of Pussy Galore being a lesbian, except for a few coy references. So I thought I'd let you see how Ian Fleming dealt with it in print.

I'll refrain from editorial comment, except for 2 notes. First, the novel was published in 1959, so the times were a wee bit different. Secondly, Tilly Masterson dies much later in the novel, not until after the raid on Fort Knox. She and Bond are put to work helping Goldfinger implement Operation Grand Slam. After resisting Bonds' advances, she becomes...ahem...taken with Pussy Galore.

Bond, having seen her name on a list, asks who this Pussy Galore might be. Goldfinger's response:

"She is the only woman who runs a gang in America. It is a gang of women. I shall need some women for this operation. She is entirely reliable. She was a trapeze artiste. She had a team. It was called 'Pussy Galore and her Acrobats.' " Goldfinger did not smile. "The team was unsuccessful, so she trained them as burglars, cat burglars. It grew into a gang of outstanding ruthlessness. It is a Lesbian organization which now calls itself 'The Cement Mixers.' Even the big American gangs respect them. She is a remarkable woman."

Next, we have Bond ruminating on Tilly Masterson, as she falls under Pussy's...ahem...influence:
Bond came to the conclusion that Tilly Masterson was one of those girls whose hormones had got mixed up. He knew the type well and thought they and their male counterparts were a direct consequence of giving votes to women and 'sex equality.' As a result of fifty years years of emancipation, feminine qualities were dying out or being transferred to the males. Pansies of both sexes were everywhere, not yet completely homosexual, but confused, not knowing what they were. The result was a herd of unhappy sexual misfits--barren and full of frustrations, the women wanting to dominate and the men to be nannied. He was sorry for them, but he had no time for them.
And the book's denouement:

She lay in the crook of Bond's arm and looked up at him. She said, not in a gangster's
voice, or a Lesbian's, but in a girl's voice, "Will you write to me in Sing Sing?"

Bond looked down into the deep blue-violet eyes that were no longer hard, imperious. He bent and kissed them lightly. He said, "They told me you only liked women."

She said, "I never met a man before."
Sigh...perhaps it's just as well the 1964 movie completely avoided the topic...

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Goldfinger

#3You know those silly movies where the nerdy girl takes off her glasses and let's down her hair, and everybody suddenly realizes how hot she is, and she becomes amazingly popular?

That's what happened with Goldfinger. OK, OK, it's a really strained analogy...but look at the U.S. box office numbers. Dr. No: $6.4 million. From Russia With Love $9.9 million. Goldfinger? $23 million. Despite playing on only 64 screens over Christmas week, it made almost $3 million in its first two weeks of release...a record back in the day. There were stories about big city theatres holding showings 24 hours a day to meet demand. Suddenly, the British spy series was the most popular girl in school.

And how did the nerdy little James Bond remove his glasses and let down his hair, so everybody could see how sexy he was all along? By taking elements of the fantastic, that had been in the first two movies, and turning them up to 11, giving the public something they'd never quite seen before. There had been theme songs (sort of), but my word, what the hell was Shirley Bassey doing, capturing us with that teasing delivery of a brilliantly memorable tune?? Sure, we had a Geiger counter (woo hoo!) and a uber-briefcase...but that was nothing compared to The Car. There had been great deaths before, but A Naked Woman Covered in Gold Paint? There had been Bonds girls, but one named so scandalously?? (Be honest--how many of you got away with saying "Pussy" by telling your parents that it was OK because she was in that Bond movie?) Red Grant had been ominous, but come on--Oddjob was something to talk about at the water cooler. There had been insidious plots, but never an attack in the heart of America aimed at one of our national symbols of strength. There had been some humor in the previous Bond movies, but this one had parts that were out and out hilarious. It was as if, instead of merely being adapted fairly straightforwardly from the novel, the producers had somehow deliberately tapped into the American zeitgeist, picking and choosing those elements that would guarantee an enthusiastic reaction.

And yet...

How ridiculously popular was this film?? Was--nay, still is, to this day? Go ahead--take a poll amongst your non-Bond-fan friends and relatives. Ask them what their favorite Bond movie is. I'll wager that most will say Goldfinger (or, as one one my friends said, "that one where Bond had a laser pointed at his crotch"). Sure, part of that is the easy to remember title. But part of it is how primal it seemed to be, the first time all of the elements of what audiences think of as a "Bond film." And those elements came together so very, very well.

And yet...

Goldfinger was such a success because it took the elements of the series that had already been there and amplified them in the most crowd-pleasing way possible. And in the process, it became iconic, the template upon which almost every future Bond movie would be based (and compared to). From here on out, except for the odd deviation which was quickly repudiated, Bond became very much a formula. We were locked in--the teaser, Bond annoying M during his briefing, the jousting with Q, the larger-than-life villain, the Bond girl with the suggestive name, the unusual henchman, the Top 10 theme song, the difficult-to-maintain balance of humor and suspense, the gadgets and cars...for the next 30+ years the writers and producers would bend themselves (and the movies) into pretzels, trying to match what had happened in Goldfinger.

And yet...

Goldfinger is still #1 on many people's, and many critic's, list of best Bond Films. And it's not hard to see why. When you look st the series, a very convincing argument can be made that Goldfinger has A) the best teaser, B) the best theme song, C) the best villain, D) the best henchman, E) the best car, F) best one-liner (from which this blog took its name),etc., etc. And even if it's not number one in all of those categories, being rated so highly in all of these area must mean that this has got to be considered the best Bond film, right?

And yet...

And yet, I'm here to tell you that Goldfinger is NOT the best Bond movie. Oh, don't get me wrong...it's very, very good. But it's possible for something to be very, very good and still be somewhat overrated.

You can't just take some average of the rankings across various departments and use that to choose the best Bond film. First, that ignores the synergy that takes place between a film's elements...and obscures how the film works in toto. More importantly, it can obscure some of a movies faults, which might not turn up in one of the categories. And Goldfinger, for all it does well, has a few glaring faults.

First of all, it does not have the best Bond. Oh, I'm not referring to Sean Connery at all, he's great, as per usual. No, as clever and tight as the script is, it has the glaring defect of having the character of Bond be borderline incompetent as a secret agent. After the teaser, he fails, and fails, and fails again, and in the end foils the villain's plot not by wit or gadgets or toughness, but by stupid blind luck.

Others have made this point before, but allow me to elaborate:
  • Bond can't resist exceeding his orders initially. Instead of just keeping an eye on Goldfinger, he interferes with his penny-ante cheating at gin. As a result, Jill Masterson is killed, and Bond's cover is completely blown.
  • It's incomprehensible that M keeps Bond on the case, as Goldfinger now knows Bond's voice (at the very least), and Oddjob knows him on sight. But send Bond he does, to hook up with Goldfinger at the golf club. Bond's mission: to ingratiate himself to Goldfinger, and establish some business relationship with his gold bar bait. But Bond can't help screwing that up, too. Instead of letting Goldfinger cheat and win, and thus maybe building a relationship, he can't resist cheating back, which only enrages Goldfinger, and ensures that Bond will never be able to get into the "inside." Well played, James. Instead of taking his mission seriously, or taking Goldfinger seriously, he is more interested in macho game-playing.
  • Having the best car in the history of humanity, Bond just can't use it well. Sure, he gives a hot woman some flat tires. But he's unable to escape Goldfinger's goons in the woods; despite having a bulletproof windshield, he's driven away by a Swedish grandmother with a tommy gun. Too tough a foe for Bond and his super-carHe doesn't use the car's machine guns, or just run her over...he just turns and drives back into the complex! And finally, he loses a game of chicken--with himself!!Bond thinks that a small mirror--more than 6 feet off the ground and off to the right--is a car heading towards him?--and let's a reflection of his own headlights in a mirror force him to drive himself into a wall!! Gezz, not only did 007 ruin Q's car, he didn't even get any success out of it!! Totally worthless!! Plus, now the Chinese have Q's car technology!!
  • After that, Bond is captured, and his actions consist of getting knocked out, bluffing, getting knocked out, using the bathroom, getting locked up, escaping, getting recaptured immediately, sitting around, having a drink with Goldfinger, sitting around...He doesn't escape, and despite 1,001 possibilities, never comes close to letting Felix Leiter or MI-6 know that something is up. How could he have? How about turning the tracker in his show off, so his watchers know something's wrong?? Or turning it on and off in Morse code? Or, during his brief escape, actually escaping or finding a phone, or actually trying to leave the grounds?
  • He beats Oddjob, but only by the sheerest luck. Ken Adam: FANTASTIC Fort Knox design, but really...power cables just laying around like that in the open??
  • And of course, Bond cannot defuse the nuclear bomb himself. The unnamed CIA agent has to do it for him...by simply flipping the off switch. Fortunately for the world, Bond learned from this, and was much better at defusing nukes in the future...
  • In the final confrontation, he can't even outfight fatso Goldfinger...he only wins by firing off Goldfinger's gun while Auric has him in a bear hug!
When you look at all that, it's had to justify calling this the best Bond movie, isn't it? Not when Bond is acting more like Maxwell Smart than 007. He's a terrible, terrible secret agent in this movie.

Not so immune, after allThe second deficit in this film is Pussy Galore. Oh, the heresy I'm spouting, right? Again, nothing against Honor Blackman; I love her, and she's great. But (and I'll freely admit that this comes down 100% to personal opinion and taste), I just don't see any chemistry between Pussy and James. Since the entire resolution of the plot depends on his being able to sway her to betray Goldfinger, it's crucial that we believe it could happen. And I simply don't see it. Setting aside any gender politics and the L word, I just don't see any sense of attraction for Bond from her. When Bond has to physically force himself on Pussy in the barn...well, let's just say that that particular section of the movie hasn't aged well, shall we? So the crucial plot twist comes across as just that, rather than a credible character moment. Now, this won't be the only time there's a distinct lack of chemistry between Bond and his leading lady, and it's not a crippling defect. But it does seriously impair its potential as the best Bond film ever.
A Pussy aside: You know, it seems like once a decade the media decides to run with the meme that this year's new Bond girl is somehow new and special, that we've "never seen" a woman who was as capable as Bond (look at coverage for The Spy Who Loved Me, Tomorrow Never Dies, Die Another Day, etc). Funny how they never seem to remember Pussy Galore...
A Galore aside: Even though I took my blog title from the movie's OTHER immortal one-liner, this one may be the best exchange in movie history, particularly with Sean's delivery:
Bond: Who are you?
Pussy: My name is Pussy Galore.
Bond: I must be dreaming.
My third reason not to nominate this for the best Bond movie ever is the god-awful location work. I know that in a fairly straightforward adaptation of the novel ,they're somewhat limited by what Fleming gave them, but geez, this movie is pretty terrible on a travelogue level. After a non-descript Latin American nation which looks like someone's backlot, what do we have? Miami, but every scene with Bond or Goldfinger is very obviously shoot against a rear-screen projection; Switzerland, which aside from a couple of pretty mountain shots could have been shot in Bolton; and then Kentucky. Look at beautiful Kentucky.

The beauty of AmericaAnd more:

More gorgeous KentuckyFrankly, they weren't even trying with the glamorous locations this time out.

Finally, Guy Hamilton is no Terrance Young. Hamilton relies far, far too much on obvious trickery to get his shots, like a persistent overuse of rear-screen projection, and a horrible reliance on sped-up film to simulate action. Compare the Bond/Red Grant fight in From Russia With Love to Bond's fight with the guard in Goldfinger's cell, or Bond's little judo fight in the barn with Pussy. Young knew how to film such scenes to make them look realistic without resorting to distracting trickery that, just frankly, looks bad. Hamilton can't...at least not in this movie. He also lets certain scenes go slack and linger far too long--case in point, Bond using the restroom on Pussy's plane, which goes on approximately FOREVER. It's not terrible direction...but it's far below the standard already set for this series.

Look, I know I'm being hyper-nitpicky. But when we're talking about the exalted position of Best Bond Movie Ever, small distinctions make the difference. And in this case, I feel that the above mentioned flaws, as cleverly disguised as they are, are enough to knock Goldfinger out of the running. I dearly love it, it's still clearly top 5...but it's just not #1.

And his martini is still dry!But now let's accentuate the positive, starting with that teaser. If you were going to stick a snippet of a Bond film in a time capsule so future generations could understand what 007 was all about, it would HAVE to be this, right? The perfect James Bond mini-movie, the perfect distillation of everything the series is about, in easy-to-digest teaser form. The undercover, the gadgets, the tuxedo, the explosion, the girl, the fight, the death pun...as much as Goldfinger is Bond-template, the movie's teaser is even more so.

The theme song? Seriously, who can hear this and not have their attention immediately torn away from whatever they were doing? Bold and brassy from the first bars, and then Shirley Bassey's voice weaves in, hard-edged but seductive, growing more and more urgent, while describing our vile villain. Ecstasy.

Random taskOddjob. What can one say? He set the standard for mute Korean henchmen who throw shoes (oops, sorry, I mean hats). Harold Sakata takes a role that could have been unforgivably silly and somehow, using just grunts and facial expressions, makes Oddjob a figure of menace, not to mention the object of countless parodies. He outwits and outfights Bond at every opportunity. If only it weren't for electricity...An unforgettable henchman who would outshine most villains...

Dubbed but deadly
...but not Auric Goldfinger. No one could outshine him. The combination of Richard Maibaum's sparkling dialogue and Gert Frobe's acting make for a richly drawn character, a living, breathing human instead of an arch caricature. Goldfinger was greedy, boastful, arrogant, intensely clever, a shrewd judge of his opponents, funny. He loved games but always felt compelled to cheat, because he loved winning so much. A hugely successful businessman with divest interests on different continents, but a savage sociopath who thought nothing of killing tens of thousands to enrich himself. What a glorious creation.

Fuck off, 007And Desmond Llewellyn finally gets a chance to make Q his own. This is the Q we know and love. His decision to play Q as frustrated with Bond's cavalier attitude was brilliant, setting the stage for the next 4 decades. He never jokes about his work, and 007 rarely takes it seriously...the perfect combination!! Plus, our first shots of the projects in Q's lab!!

I'm very, very VERY whiteI would be remiss if I didn't dump on poor Cec Linder, who is clearly the worst Felix Leiter EVER. One of the things that covers up 007's ineffectiveness in this movie is that Americans look like much bigger dolts. The FBI and CIA have NOTHING in their files on Goldfinger. He has Chinese soldiers, nerve gas and nuclear weapons smuggled into the country, and the U.S. doesn't have a clue. Goldfinger is conspiring with every top gangster in America (who all show up at his ranch while it's supposedly under CIA surveillance) AND the Chinese government to knock of Fort Knox, and nobody in America has the slightest clue. Geez, no wonder we need Bond to save us! Anyway, Leiter is the perfect CIA man for this movie's dim views of our intelligence capabilities: he doesn't do much except smirk like a frat boy at Bond's antics, and stand around cluelessly. Smarmy and not helpful, he's just a terrible conception of a companion for Bond.

I hope I'm not dumping too hard on this movie, because I do love it to death. The things it does well, it does EXCEPTIONALLY well. As a piece of popular culture, it's undeniably powerful and iconic. And of course, this was the movie that made Bond BOND, the phenomenon, and ensured that we would still be getting Bond movies for the next forty years. They took off the glasses, let down the hair, and everyone saw how gorgeous these movies were.

I just want it remembered that some of us thought the girl was pretty damn beautiful before the transformation, and that there was a Bond who was loved by many of us before Goldfinger.

SNELL'S RANDOM THOUGHTS AND QUESTIONS:

**Uhh...the Chinese government tried to detonate a nuclear bomb on U.S. soil, had armed soldiers shoot American troops, and tried to kill 40,000 with nerve gas. Wouldn't that be considered, well, an act of war? Shouldn't there have been immediate (and probably military) reprisals against China? Maybe even WWIII? In Tomorrow Never Dies, the British and Chinese are set to go to war over much less...in Goldfinger, in keeping with the hapless Americans theme, I guess we just shrug and smirk, like Felix Leiter: "oh, those rascally Communists!!"

**Once again Maibaum's script makes a twist that makes the movie more interesting than the book. In the novel, there was a nuclear bomb, but that was only to blow open the doors of the depository. Goldfinger's plan really was to steal the gold (albeit only some of it). It was a SMERSH-backed plan, not the Chinese. But by having Bond point out the futility of trying to physically steal that much gold, and having the bomb irradiate the U.S. gold supply, Maibuam turns a trumped-up robbery scheme into a wonderfully scary geopolitical thriller. (For those too young to remember, the U.S., as well as much of the world, was on the Gold Standard, which meant that the dollar was literally backed by gold. And if most of our gold supply was rendered unusable, well, suddenly the dollar was backed by nothing, and theoretically worthless. It certainly would have been economic chaos, at least in the short term. I always like to that that this movie was the reason that no government in the world uses the gold standard today...)

**James Bond disses the Beatles. I'm just reminding you.

**We get our first mention of a specific Double-O besides, Bond, 008.

**Why, exactly, does Goldfinger kill all the gangsters? It makes no sense on any level. We'll have an extended discussion this weekend...

**Worst acting award? All the soldiers who collapsed the moment the (supposed) nerve-gas spewing planes passed overhead. Given that the gangsters in Goldfinger's den survived for 20 seconds or so, and managed to run around, it hard to see how the gas, at a lesser concentration and a greater distance, could make everyone collapse so fast. So not the most convincing effort at making Goldfinger think the gas had worked, really...

**Speaking of which, in what must be less than 12 hours, Pussy leaves the farm, somehow tracks down Leiter, convinces him about Goldfinger's plot, convinces his superiors, and "helps" them swap out the nerve gas canisters on the plane, and get back in time. And in even less time, Leiter and the Americans must come up with fake gas canisters, and arrange for 40,000+ people to pretend to die. Not a lot of time to get all that done, is all I'm saying. of course, Bond's actions during that same time...? Still waiting...

**Memo to all future villains--if you're going to have a secret drug lab, DON'T fill it with lots of barrels of nitro, conveniently labelled as such. It does make it ever so easy to blow up your installations.

Please--let me make it easier to destroy my hidden complex**Gert Frobe's voice was dubbed by another actor, as his accent was apparently indecipherable. I just wonder, was Frobe such a huge star in Europe that it justified giving his role to a man who couldn't speak English comprehensibly? Why didn't they cast someone who spoke better English? Don't get me wrong, I'm glad they cast him, because his performance is wonderful. I just find it an unusual casting decision...

**You would think it wouldn't be so easy to fly a bunch of civilian planes over Fort Knox...yes, I know that they were "letting" the plan work, so Goldfinger would bring in the bomb. But it was unrealistic of Goldfinger to not expect some air response from the Army or Air Force, no?

**Bond Score: 4. Bonita in the teaser, Dink in Miami, Jill Masterson, and Pussy Galore. Cumulative Bond score for 3 movies: 11.

**Tilly Masterson: WORST. SHOT. EVER.

Really, can ANYBODY be that bad a shot??I mean, come on...

**Speaking of Tilly, she has a much different fate in the novel. I'll discuss that this weekend, too.

And of course,
And dat's da truth
Be here next week.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Bond name Update

A couple of weeks ago I had a post asking readers for the best real life Bond names.

Well, I still think that Lazarus Bain is tops, but last night I found a new one. A reporter for BBC radio, named...Damian Grammaticus.

Just rolls of the tongue, doesn't it? Damian Grammaticus. Sounds like an insane billionaire intent on world conquest, doesn't it?

The search continues...

Saturday, June 7, 2008

How Good Was Kronsteen?

In From Russia With Love, we're presented with Kronsteen as S.P.E.C.T.R.E. #5, head of Planning, a chess genius and arrogant mastermind of evil. Well, based on what we see, how true is that?

Back when chess players weren't f#$%ing pussiesLet's start with the chess. Surprisingly enough, they pretty much get that right. Our first image, tells us a lot:

Can you feel the tension?Two things of note here. First, this is being billed as an "International Grandmasters Championship." In the novel, Fleming merely had Kronsteen the 3-time Moscow champion...he explicitly hadn't reached grandmaster status. I guess the producers wanted to pump up his rep, to make him a worthy opponent for Bond.

Secondly, note that this is the final match, and that the score is 11 1/2-11 1/2. In chess matches, you get 1 point for a win, and 1/2 point for a draw. In other words, at this point Kronsteen and his opponent, the Canadian MacAdams, are in a dead heat. If Kronsteen is so much better than everyone, he sure hasn't proven it against the Canadian. Unless, of course, he's just toying with him.

Next, let's look at the final game itself. Here's our the position the movie brings us in at. Kronsteen is white, and it's his move:

I whipped out my Chessmaster 9000 program (which is where I got these board position pictures from), and analyzed the moves that we see. Kronsteen's first move: Knight x Bishop E5 check:

Now, given this position, this was a no-brainer, according to Chessmaster. No matter what level of skill I set the program to, from Bobby Fischer to a rookie 8-year-old girl, this was the move it made. It wouldn't even consider another line. So while the move is a very solid one, it hardly proves his brilliance.

MacAdams has only 5 possible responses, and he chooses the worst...King H7:

This was a terrible blunder, according to Chessmaster. It really was the worst possible move he could make. Before, while he had a big positional disadvantage, he wasn't behind much materially, and could have forged a draw (or even won the game eventually, if he were playing the 8-year-old). But now he's locked himself in, and Kronsteen moves for the kill: Queen E4 check.

The audience jumps up and murmurs, as if was some unexpectedly exceptional move, and MacAdams congratulates Kronsteen for "a brilliant coup." Chessmaster just yawns, however. Again, the move was so superior to other possibilities, I couldn't get Chessmaster to make another, no matter how poor I made his skills.

MacAdams is correct to resign here, as his only option result in Mate in 4, Mate in 9, or a long drawn out bleeding that will inevitably result in Mate unless Kronsteen falls asleep.

Well, we didn't learn much, did we? Kronstein, for the whole match, was dead even with MacAdams. And the moves we see him make are the exact ones pretty much any player would make. Any brilliance has to come from how Kronsteen put MacAdams in that position to begin with, which sadly the movie doesn't show us. So it's hard to judge exactly how good Kronsteen actually is, particularly since this victory was due in part to his opponent's blunder.

Of course, we do see all the moves of his game against Bond. Kronsteen's plan to get the Lektor would have worked, had Red Grant not gotten greedy for a few more gold sovereigns (what, S.P.E.C.T.R.E. doesn't pay enough?) and have some class warfare arguments with Bond. And Tania actually falling in love with Bond, while not having much impact on the outcome, wasn't projected either.

He did correctly read the British mindset that they couldn't resist a trap; he did foresee that setting England vs. Russia would cover Grant's activities; and his man did end up with the Lektor, and Bond should have died. He, as he boasted, foresaw "every variation of counter-move"...except where emotions came into the mix. It was the human element that failed...which is why chess masters might not be the best people to plan operations.