Sunday, 23 October 2011

James Bond cornered

I saw the film Cornered the other day. It's an old film – released in 1945 – and stars Dick Powell as Laurence Gerard, a demobbed pilot who goes on the hunt for the man who ordered the killing of a group of French resistance fighters, among them Gerard's war-bride. What struck me as I was watching it is how like a James Bond film it is, especially the early films, such as Dr No (1962).

Dick Powell plays a character that is Bond-like. He is ruthless, determined, and tough. This is a character hewn from his experiences in the second world war. Gerard is handsome, too, and proves to be quite the attraction for the women he encounters.

The plot follows the trajectory that is typical of a Bond film. In London Gerard is assigned a mission (in this case a self-appointed one) to track down one Marcel Jarnac, a Vichy collaborator. He follows a series of clues that sees him travel from London to Paris, then to Argentina, where he meets a man who acts as a guide and go-between (a charismatic roguish man, a little like From Russia With Love's Kerim Bey). Gerard meets the 'widow' of Jarnac, and the key players of an active group of neo-Nazis, of which Jarnac is the head. He also gets tangled up with the local anti-Nazi operatives, who are sympathetic to Gerard, but have their own goals, and aren't happy at the distraction. Later Gerard is exposed and captured, and receives a beating. Tied to a chair, he comes face to face with Jarnac, but escapes and finally Jarnac is killed.

In its basic structure, the film is reminiscent of Dr No or From Russia With Love (1963). There is the globe-trotting, contacts and operatives whose loyalties are not always clear, beautiful women (one good, the other bad), sophisticated surroundings, wisecracks, fist-fights and gunfights, a torture scene, and a villain (Jarnac) who rivals Dr No or Blofeld.

The scene in which Gerard is tied to a chair and, between beatings, is forced to listen to Jarnac's plans for his neo-Nazi group is especially Bondian. And when Jarnac shoots Melchior Incza (Gerard's go-between) with all the rounds in his gun, I thought of Bond shooting Dr No's agent, Professor Dent, six times.

The plot is generally fast-moving and its style could be regarded as forerunner to the technique of quick cuts perfected by editor Peter Hunt on Dr No.

There are no obvious links between Cornered and Dr No (for example in terms of scriptwriters), although no doubt Dr No screenwriter Richard Maibaum was very familiar with Dick Powell's films and his style of action thrillers. But this may have been enough for Cornered and other films of the same style to have imprinted themselves on Maibaum's mind, and for elements of them to be expressed, probably unknowingly, in the screenplay for Dr No.

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