Thursday, May 13, 2010

"Being Pure to Ian Fleming's Bond"


Lately, there has been a great deal of talk about EON Productions being pure to the James Bond novels written by Ian Fleming. Demands that Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli adhere closely to the novels have increased on many Bond forums. And I cannot help but wonder what has brought about the increasing number of demands.

Certain Bond fans have demanded the following:

*The Bond franchise should avoid political correctness altogether.

*Bond should smoke on screen.

*M should be a man.

*Felix Leiter should be a white blond Texan, as described in the novels.

There are probably more demands, but the above are the ones I tend to encounter on the forums. I have also read demands that the Bond movies should either stick to the fantasy-adventure elements first introduced in “GOLDFINGER” or should stick to being tight spy thrillers like “FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE”. In regard to the style of the Bond stories, I personally prefer tight spy thrillers like “CASINO ROYALE”, “FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE”, “FOR YOUR EYES ONLY” and “THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS”. However, if a Bond movie with a fantasy-adventure style of storytelling is well written, I can be very tolerant of it. In fact, there are one or two of them that are favorites of mine – “THUNDERBALL”, “THE SPY WHO LOVED ME” and “GOLDENEYE”.

Now, in regard to the demands I had listed earlier, here are my responses to them:

*The Bond franchise should avoid political correctness altogether – Why? Why should the Bond franchise stay mired in the political incorrectness of the past? I have always had the impression that EON Productions made sure that the Bond films kept up with the times. I have no problem with James Bond remaining sexist. That is the man’s character. But I would have a problem if the movies maintained some old-fashioned view on women, non-whites or non-British characters. In 1962’s “DR. NO”, there is a scene on Crab Key in which Bond ordered Quarrel to pick up his shoes. Every time I see that scene, I wince. Even for 1962 that seemed a bit too much, especially since the Civil Rights movement was going on at the time. Hell, in the same year, “THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE” featured a black psychiatrist with Army intelligence. Many Bond fans have a problem with a Bond leading lady being a secret agent or someone capable of being an action character. I find this idea laughable. Are these people threatened by the idea of a woman being capable of shooting a gun or martial arts? Do they feel that such a character in a Bond movie would threatened their sense of well-being? I do not demand that all Bond women be spies or some kind of action figure. But I do not see the harm that they mix it up every now and then. In the end, I would find the idea of non-British and non-white characters being portrayed as inferior characters or the idea of Bond female leading ladies being nothing more than eye candy and bed warmers for Bond in all of the movies, repellent and a good excuse to avoid a Bond movie in the future.

*Bond should smoke on screen – Again, why? Why does Bond have to smoke on screen? What is the big deal? Personally, I could not care less. Connery did not smoke in all of his movies. As far as I know, Moore only smoked in two of his movies. Did Brosnan smoked? If so, I do not remember . . . and I do not care. Frankly, Bond as a smoker can go either way with me. I simply feel that it is a matter that is not a big deal.

*M should be a man – The United Kingdom has had a female monarch for the past fifty-five years. For a period of ten or eleven years, it had a female Prime Minister. And MI-6 – until recently – was led by a woman. Why in the hell should gender matter in regard to M’s role? Are those who are demanding that M return to being a man are telling us that only a man can be an authority figure? This is the 21st century! That idea is ridiculous! Hell, it was ridiculous when Queen Elizabeth I ruled England back in the 16th century as one of the country’s greatest monarchs. I have also encountered complaints about M (Dench) castigating Bond whenever he screwed up. They act as if she did not have the right to lecture him. What nonsense! Dench is not the first M to castigate Bond. Bernard Lee did it “GOLDFINGER” after Bond had screwed up his assignment in Miami. Lee did it again in "THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN” when Bond and Hip lost that solar power device (I forgot its name). Robert Brown’s M castigated Timothy Dalton’s Bond in their two movies together. So why have certain fans decided to complain about Dench’s M doing the same during her tenure in the Bond franchise? And why on earth is it necessary for M to be a man?

*Felix Leiter should be a white blond Texan, as described in the novels – What in the hell? Why on earth is it necessary for Felix Leiter to be a blond, white Texan? Because he was one in the Fleming novels? So what? In the 44-year history of the Bond franchise, has the movie version of Felix Leiter EVER been a blond, white Texan? I certainly do not recall one. John Terry, who portrayed Leiter in “THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS”, was born and raised in Florida, if that would help. But he certainly was not a blond. I do not even know if Rik Van Nutter of “THUNDERBALL” was a blond or simply prematurely gray. Neither Jack Lord, Norman Burton, Cec Linder or David Hedison were tall, lanky blonds from Texas. In fact, none of these actors have ever used a Texas accent in portraying Leiter. But they have all been white. Is that the problem? That the latest actor to portray Leiter was a black man? Well, black American actor, Bernie Casey, portrayed Leiter in the unofficial “NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN”. I do not recall any outrage over his casting. However, I do believe there should have been one. Although good-looking, Mr. Casey was never a very good actor. Since Felix Leiter has NEVER been portrayed as a lanky blond white Texan in the Bond franchise’s 44-year history, I see no reason why EON Productions should consider one now.

As to being a Fleming purist, I can honestly say that I am not one. Quite frankly, aside from a few titles like “From Russia With Love”, “Thunderball” and “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”, I am not a real fan of Ian Fleming’s writing. Although he seemed to have had a talent for characterization and picturesque settings, I do not think that most of his plots were very good. In fact, his plots seemed to be the weakest part about his writing. I do not think that a Fleming plot is needed for that movie to be great. As for the battle between the fantasy-adventure elements and the spy thriller elements, EON Productions have switched back and forth between the two styles. In fact, so has Ian Fleming. In that case, one can say that EON has been “pure” to the novels.

And this all brings me back to this demand that EON Productions be pure to the Fleming novels. I am not saying that many of these “purist” fans stop posting complaints about the differences between the novels and the movies. Hell, they have every right to express their opinions. But if they are going to post these complaints for the world to see, then fans such as myself have the right to express why I do not agree with them. Just as these same “purists” have the right to express their disagreement with this article – which I suspect will soon happen.

I have one last question to ask - since when has EON Productions ever been completely “pure” to the novels? Was it “ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE”? Well, there are some differences between the novel and the movie. One, the literary Tracy is a blond. The movie Tracy (Diana Rigg) obviously is not a blond. And in the movie, Bond is portrayed by an Australian actor, whose accent popped up every now and then. If EON Productions have never been completely “pure” to the novels – aside from changing back and forth between using fantasy elements and thriller elements – why on earth should it start now?

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