The immortal line in the 007 films. As distinctive as the theme music.
In my quest for light reading at the local library (I’ve now read all the Chris Ryans, Graham Greenes, and various others) I suddenly chanced on the Bond novels by Ian Fleming.
For some reason I never read them in my youth although I must have ploughed happily through every single Saint (Simon Templar) novel by Leslie Charteris.
Needless to state I haven’t been able to read them in the correct chronological order which is a bit of a nuisance as each book opens by referring to the previous one.
However having said that, they are all stand-alone stories anyway, so it is a minor inconvenience rather than a major disaster. A bit like not being able to read all the Len Deighton Bernard Sampson tales in the right order.
So one of the things I did do over the brief weekend at the finca, was to polish off Goldfinger. I think the others I read before that, were Casino Royale, Diamonds are Forever, and From Russia, With Love. Now what has fascinated me, is how much better the books are than the extravagant block-buster films that were made so many years ago. Somewhat like reading a Robert Ludlum Bourne novel and wondering what on earth it had to do with the Bourne films apart from the name.
To be fair to the Bond films, they did stick to the basic plot – just changed the situation, location and added a few more characters. To put it mildly.
But back to the book(s). Overall, they are so much tighter, well written, with a good plot, no superfluous drivel – and each one throughout the series seems to get even harder and tougher. The character is perfectly painted. And while I don’t agree with the so-called womanising approach – it doesn’t read like that in the books. He meets intelligent attractive women and has sex with them, usually one or maybe two per novel. Or turn it round the other way, one or two intelligent attractive women meet an intelligent attractive man, ie James Bond and have sex with him. OK so maybe he is irresistible.
Which probably explains Sean Connery’s amazing success in the films. One of my schoolfriends met him at Gleneagles, she was working there at the hotel in her early 20s and he was obviously staying to play golf. He was probably around her father’s age and I swear if she could have found a way to throw herself at his feet she would have done.
She sat in my parent’s kitchen chatting to my mum and me (we had gone to school together since age five so we knew each other’s parents pretty well too) and Sean came up in the conversation. “Oh my god,’ she said. ‘He is just so absolutely gorgeous. Oh he is so sexy, oh he is …. etc etc’ and her eyes just glazed over with a dreamy remembrance of the days she serviced his bedroom in Gleneages. She was a chambermaid, I hasten to add.
Back to Goldfinger. It was apparently the third film to be made in 1964, (the book dates from 1959), and was an amazing financial success – it had a budget of $3M, which it recouped in two weeks, grossing a total of $125M at the box office. Incredible. It was also the first gadgety film, which was obviously popular at the time, but to me lead to endless boring stunts.
The book, on the other hand, sticks to guns and knives – with the exception of Oddjob’s amazing hat. There is some dialogue – but it is curt and to the point. There is a lot of descriptive narration, but the story keeps moving and the pace is fast. Even to me, a non-golf player, the chapters where Bond and Goldfinger were playing for ten thousand dollars (not the gold bar of the film) were well contrived and keep the reader in suspense waiting for the denouement.
My partner read Goldfinger (and all the other Bond books) some 30 years ago. ‘I love the bit about being squeezed through the aeroplane window like a tube of toothpaste,’ he said casually when we were discussing the book. How on earth can someone remember a description from a book they read so long ago? But perhaps they can if the imagery created by the prose was good enough.
One of the strengths of the last two films (Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace), has been to get away from the gadgets, and the terribly boring scenes (to me) where people seem to chase around on futuristic machines underground rushing to kill each other before the whole place blows up.
The opening of Casino Royale was wonderful – even moreso if you remember the old Callan series. I can never watch those opening moments without thinking of Callan and Edward Woodward. Demolishing half of Venice towards the end was the film’s weakest point, but the final ending was good, very good, as Bond (Daniel Craig) shoots Mr White, and utters the immortal words when White asks who he is.
I use Casino Royale as an example because I have seen it more recently, but however good the film is, it seems there is always a boring section. But in the books – there isn’t a boring moment, and I struggle to put them down to do something mundane like cooking or shopping or cleaning. Much better to allocate a few hours and read straight through.
And for those of you who wanted to listen to Dame Shirley singing – you can look it up on Youtube as well as I can. Instead here is the rather nice front cover of the hardback from the library. The golden eyes are set in a skull.
Gotta go, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service calls. As do some more tedious duties. Which will win???