Tuesday, October 28, 2008

I Don't Hate James Bond

Bond: Do you expect me to talk?
Goldfinger: Nooo, Mr. Bond. I expect you to die!
~ from Ian Fleming's Goldfinger

I admit I live in a little world all my own most of the time, but I suspect I'm not alone in being a little surprised that the BBC would get all worked up over whether people should hate James Bond. I mean, really now. Ian Fleming started writing those stories in the fifties, and I guess the movies have been around for over forty years. Someone must like them.

Certainly, the Bond franchise has had its critics over the years, what with all that casual sex, blowing up things, and improbable villains. And, yes, are we not all exasperated at those villains, who have been smart enough to create world-wide organizations that appear to have lots of money and brilliant technology achievements, those same villains will try to kill Bond in some Rube-Goldberg fashion that will guarantee Bond's escape? Instead of just shooting the guy, they tie him up to some complicated apparatus that will drop a sixteen-ton weight on him when the six o'clock newscaster says, "Brilliant." Then they walk away and leave him there, but not before they explain their entire plot, divulge their immediate plans, and provide Bond with the names and addresses of all their agents.

So, Mr. Bond wriggles about, finds some handy-dandy device in his pocket that Q gave him and asked Bond pretty please to not destroy this time, and, using it in a manner that completely melts the thing, makes his escape. Alternately, the villain's femme-fatale co-conspirator, who has been captivated by Mr. Bond's suave brand of raw sexuality, simply walks in and releases him.

Personally, I've always preferred the times he melted Q's thingy. Ummm... Perhaps, I could have put that better, but you get the idea.

Let's face it: We love a certain amount of escapism in our lives, and there is little more escapist than imagining that you are the suave spy saving the world from evil people who really don't seem to know what they would do with the world if they got it. Movies have a long history of suave good guys, who wow the ladies, and get the bad guys in the last reel, all the while tossing off clever quips one after the other. Just thinking about it briefly, I can think of several such characters.

The Saint -- George Sanders, who surely would have played Bond if he had been born a couple of decades later, was the suave detective, who skirted the borders of the law, seemed equally comfortable with criminal low-lifes and upper-crust swells, is probably the original prototype for James Bond. I don't know if Ian Fleming has ever said that, but just watch any of the movies in the series and you can't help but detect similarities. Sanders also played a very similar character called the Falcon, although he was killed off around the third movie and replaced by his on-screen and real-life brother, Tom Conway.

Sam Spade and Phillip Marlowe -- As played by Humphrey Bogart, these are the same guys. Marlowe might be a little crustier, but the scene in which he is chewing out the DA and suddenly turns to the little guy taking down the conversation and says, "Am I going to fast for you, son?" is a line James Bond would have loved to use. As Sam Spade, in the Maltese Falcon, he is the ultimate in cool, facing down all the baddies in his apartment, setting them up for the fall, then turning over Mary Astor to the cops for killing his partner. Now that's a guy with ice-water in his veins.

A digression: Do you know that no one knows who killed the chauffer in The Big Sleep (the Marlowe movie)? At one point during production, an argument broke out over who did the guy in, so the director, I think it was, called Raymond Chandler, who wrote the story. Chandler thought about it for a while, then admitted that he didn't know either.

Peter Gunn -- He could move from seedy nightclubs to penthouses with ease. One moment, he's calmly explaining how Big Ernie got it, the next he's plugging the bad guy. Always calm and cool, Craig Stevens was in control. And Julie London's character had the hots for him. It doesn't get a lot better than that.

Sherlock Holmes -- Basil Rathbone, Peter Cushing, and Jeremy Brett all played him with a detached air (although Rathbone could get a little excitable). Conan-Doyle's great detective had the original ice-water-in-the-veins approach to everything. The only thing he lacked was the sex appeal with the ladies. Of course, there was that Irene Adler thing ...

Now Bond had many of the elements of all of the above plus he was a spy, when spies were really cool - as long as they were your spies. Maybe that's what bothers his critics. Because that occupation leads to be another complaint against Bond, that his villains all spoke with foreign accents. Well, let's see, Bond works for the British Secret Service, and, last time I checked the last major spying involving English-speaking enemies of the British would have occurred around 1812. What else are the bad guys going to be, except foreigners?

Let's face it. Our spies are good guys working for truth, justice, and the American Way (or the British Way, if you're James Bond). Their spies are evil double-dealing, unprincipled scoundels bent on the destruction of everything decent people hold dear. Unless, of course, they're making the movies.

Look, all you people worked up about James Bond, he's a fictional character. Real spying doesn't work like that. There are no criminal masterminds out there working to take over the world. So get over it and enjoy the movie.

Besides, think about this. Think of the people who run the governments around the world. Now imagine them faced with a criminal mastermind capable of organizing a world-wide operation, making bags of money and using technology that government military organizations can only dream of.

The only thing that would have stopped Blofeld would have been the aneurysm he'd have gotten laughing at them.

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