Monday 28 May 2012

Hitchcockian moments in the Bond films

The website Letters of Note recently publicised the telegram from Ian Fleming to fellow novelist Eric Ambler in which Fleming asks whether Alfred Hitchcock would be interested in directing the film project that he and Kevin McClory were developing (and which would become Thunderball). While Hitchcock never directed a Bond film, his influence can be detected throughout the Bond series. Let's look at some of those key Hitchcockian moments.

If Hitchcock had directed a Bond film, then it probably would have looked something like From Russia With Love, which is the most Hitchcockian of the whole series, and there are characteristic elements from the very start: the opening pre-titles sequence, which misleads the viewer into thinking Bond has been killed; the Lektor decoding machine, which provides a strong macguffin to drive the plot; duplicitous or ambivalent characters (Red Grant and Tatiana); the use of a restricted location (the Orient Express); and naturally the homage to North by Northwest as Bond is attacked by a helicopter.

North by Northwest is recalled again at the climax of A View to a Kill. The sequence on top of the Golden Gate Bridge, as Bond battles Zorin and rescues Stacey Sutton, brings to mind Hitchcock's use of famous landmarks, such as Mount Rushmore (North by Northwest) and the Forth Rail Bridge (The 39 Steps). Indeed, this element is use twice in A View to a Kill, as earlier in the film the narrative takes us to another landmark, the Eiffel Tower.

Then there are moments in the Bond films of genuine Hitchcockian tension. Of particular note is Bond's escape from Piz Gloria in On Her Majesty's Secret Service and the pursuit by Blofeld's men down the mountain to the village. Just as tense is Bond's attempt to defuse the nuclear bomb in the middle of the circus in Octopussy. Both sequences allow the tension to build before being resolved, and the tension is heightened by the juxtaposition of danger and jeopardy with celebration and happiness (a Christmas event and a circus). These recall films such as Strangers on a Train, which ends at an amusement park, and Notorious, which features a scene where Devlin (Cary Grant) and Alicia (Ingrid Bergman) surreptitiously investigate a wine cellar in the midst of a party.

Before the party, at Devlin's request, Alicia had taken the cellar key, from her father, a Nazi sympathiser, without his knowing. There is a similar Hitchcockian element in Thunderball, when Bond asks Domino to locate nuclear bombs on Largo's boat, thus putting her in danger.

Like From Russia With Love, For Your Eyes Only has a very strong macguffin, in this case the ATAC device. The film also presents a classic Hitchcockian character in Kristatos, who we think is on Bond's side, but is actually the villain. The concealed intentions of Live and Let Die's Rosie Carver is rather Hitchcockian, as is her checking into Bond's hotel as Mrs Bond, which along with all uses of false names at hotels in the Bond films, recalls The 39 Steps and the scene where Richard Hannay (Robert Donat) and Pamala (Madeleine Carroll) stay at a Scottish Inn under false names.

There are doubtless other Hitchcockian moments in the Bond films. While the involvement of Hitchcock in the Bond series presents an interesting 'What if?', we can see shades of his style throughout the series.

Sunday 20 May 2012

Seashells and other tips for surviving the economic storm, by Ian Fleming

In 1948, Ian Fleming had not long established himself in Jamaica – he moved into his winter retreat, Goldeneye, in December 1946 – but even by that time was concerned with issues that affected the country. An edition of Jamaica's foremost newspaper, the Daily Gleaner, published in March 1948, carried an article by Ian Fleming. In it, he gave suggestions for the 'island's development' in the face of economic uncertainty. Reading the article now, we also detect the germ of an idea that would resurface nine years later in his novel, Dr No.

As now, the world in 1948 was experiencing an economic crisis. The Second World War had cost nations dearly. European states were heavily in debt, unemployment was high, and industry was still reeling from the war effort and the destruction of infrastructure. Recovery followed the implementation of the United States' Marshall Plan in 1947, but it was slow, and in 1948, the world's economy remained turbulent.

Ian Fleming recognised that Jamaica had not escaped these difficulties, and so he offered some advice on the what steps the inhabitants of Jamaica could take to lessen the impact of the 'economic hurricane' that was approaching. Supporting a plea from the Gleaner for Jamaica to make more use of its natural resources, Fleming suggested that for every tree cut down, two more should be planted, thus allowing the country to develop a sustainable resource. More wood could be used for shoes. The people in Europe, he said, had largely rejected shoes made with leather soles, preferring instead shoes with wooden soles and heels. This presented a basis for a thriving industry. Such shoes could readily be made in Jamaica and sold to visitors.

More use, Fleming wrote, could be made of the island's fish and shell fish. French restaurants would pay handsomely for the fat mussels normally used as bait by fishermen. A list should be prepared of all the edible sea food available in Jamaican waters, accompanied by advice on how to cook it. And a greater range of fish could be salted and preserved; Jamaicans need not rely solely on salted cod to get them through times of reduced fresh fish supply.

Fleming also urged people to look after their livestock more carefully, for instance by keeping them off the road. Animals are an important economic asset and should be protected. Fleming thought that native plants, another asset, were unreasonably regarded by the local population as weeds. Money could be made by selling the cuttings and seeds of those plants.

Finally, Ian Fleming suggested that the inhabitants of fishing villages collect the seashells brought in over the year and sell them at wayside stalls. The shells make excellent garden and household ornaments and souvenirs for tourists.

If this idea seems familiar, then it is because Fleming appears to have returned to it in his 1957 novel, Dr No. Honeychile Rider memorably emerges from the sea onto the beach of Dr No's island and meets James Bond. She clutches some seashells and tells Bond that she is collecting them for a dealer in Miami. Fleming wrote the novel in 1956, but clearly it was not the first time that he had thought about the economic value of seashells. The idea originated nine years earlier and was expressed again through a character that would become so iconic in the James Bond phenomenon, thanks in no small part to Ursula Andress's portrayal in the 1962 film.

Saturday 12 May 2012

A dish for James Bond

As a foodie and keen amateur chef, I have quite a few cookbooks at home. I was sorting my library  and rediscovered a booklet of recipes that came with Tex's range of seasonings, which, according to the brand's website, provide a 'taste of the Caribbean.' One of the recipes caught my eye: 007's Jamaican Curry Mutton.

You can find the recipe on Tex's website. The method is very simple. Cut the mutton into cubes, rub in Tex's Jamaican Style Curry Powder and Tex's Tropical Multi-Purpose Seasoning, and leave to marinate for an hour. Then, fry some onion and garlic, add the mutton and other ingredients (red pepper, tomatoes, lemon juice and hot pepper sauce), and stir. Cover the pan, turn the heat to low, and let the curry simmer until the mutton is cooked.

Curried mutton – actually goat in Jamaica – isn't an obvious dish to be associated with James Bond. He eats a shrimp curry during dinner with Goldfinger, but in Jamaica he dines on fish, eggs and vegetables (Live and Let Die, chapter 17), sucking pig and avocado salad (LALD, chapter 23), lamb cutlets (Dr No, chapter 16), and a roast chicken and more fish (The Man with the Golden Gun, chapter 10).

But Ian Fleming is likely to have eaten curried goat during his stays at Goldeneye, and perhaps often. Noël Coward recalls that when he rented the house for a time (at the rate of £50 per week), his meals gradually changed from sumptuous dinners to a diet of salt fish and ackee or curried goat. Presumably the cook was Fleming's cook, and if curried goat was a staple meal for Coward, then it probably was for Fleming as well. That said, the letters of Ann Fleming give the impression that the Flemings survived solely on lobster, which Ian Fleming caught in the bay by the house.

Returning to 007's Jamaican Curry Mutton, it seems that the association between James Bond and Jamaica is still strong, 50 years after Dr No was released, and 48 years after Ian Fleming's death. The memes that associate Bond with Jamaica are perpetuated in ways that go beyond the books and the films, being expressed in, for example, songs (such as '007 Shanty Town' by Desmond Dekker), airport names (Ian Fleming International Airport, formerly Boscobel Aerodrome), and, as we have now seen, recipes.


Amory, M, 1985 The letters of Ann Fleming, Collins Harvill, London

Sunday 6 May 2012

James Bond in 1969 - an update

In a recent post, I speculated about the events William Boyd might refer to in his forthcoming James Bond novel in order to root the narrative to 1969, the year in which the novel will be set. I wonder whether the author's 2002 novel, Any Human Heart, provides a little more insight.

The novel takes the form of a journal, which is written intermittently by the protagonist Logan Mountstuart between the early 1920s and the early 1990s. The journal covers, among other episodes, Mountstuart's school days, his time at Oxford University, his early career as a writer, his experience in naval intelligence during the second world war (having been recruited by Ian Fleming - more on that in a later post), and his time in New York running an art gallery. 

In 1969, Mountstuart is teaching English in Nigeria. Through Mountstuart's journal, William Boyd refers to the Moon landing (something I thought might be mentioned in the Bond novel), and places Mountstuart in the centre of the Nigerian civil war (also known as the Biafran War), which lasted from July 1967 to January 1970. 

Given Boyd's knowledge of the region (he grew up in Nigeria and set a novel in West Africa), it is possible that he might turn again to Africa, and we might at least see a reference to Nigeria and the Biafran War in his awaited Bond novel.  

Saturday 5 May 2012

James Bond's Olympics

There has been much speculation in the press and on the web about James Bond's role in the opening ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics. The latest rumour is that Bond will receive a knighthood from the Queen (we'll ignore the fact that Bond turns down a knighthood in The Man with the Golden Gun; it's not that he's averse to the idea of a knighthood, just that he'd refuse to call himself Sir James Bond). Assuming that Bond is present at the opening of the games, what events would he stick around to watch?

We know from Bond's obituary in Ian Fleming's You Only Live Twice that Bond, while at school at Fettes, formed friendships among the athletic circles, boxed for the school as a light-weight, and founded a judo class. The judo events begin on the 28th July, while the first round of boxing (light division) takes place the day after. (Incidentally, the regulation weight for the light division is 60kg; Bond's weight in From Russia, with Love is given as 76kg, so by the time Bond was engaged on his adventure in Turkey, he had put on enough weight to box at middle weight.)

As for the athletics, I suspect that Bond would be keen to follow the track events. Given that Bond shares many interests with Fleming, it is reasonable to suggest that Bond, like Fleming, was runner at school (Fleming had particular success at Eton with the mile, half-mile, quarter-mile and steeplechase). Round 1 of the 3000m steeplechase takes place on Friday 3rd August, and no doubt Bond will be watching this with interest. Fleming's other running events are now roughly equivalent to the 1500m, the 800m and the 400m. Bond's in for a long busy weekend of Olympic viewing: the first round of the 1500m begins on the 3rd August, Saturday 4th sees the start of the 400m contest, and the 800m competition starts on Monday 6th August.

The long jump was another event at which Fleming excelled while at Eton. If Fleming gave Bond his interest in the discipline, then Bond should note that the qualifiers start on the 3rd August. As Fleming was something of an all-rounder, then Bond might also be interested in the decathlon, which includes the long jump, 400m and 1500m.

Being a crack shot and, as we learn in 'The Living Daylights', good enough to have a fair chance of winning the Queen's Prize for shooting, James Bond would no doubt be keen to follow the shooting events. In particular, Bond is likely to appreciate the skills demanded in the 50m rifle prone (qualification begins on the 3rd August), the 50m rifle 3 positions (commencing on the 6th August), the 50m pistol (beginning on the 5th August), and the 25m rapid fire pistol (beginning on the 2nd August). 

As well as an athlete and marksman, James Bond is also a swimmer, as revealed in Live and Let Die and Thunderball. The long-distance swimming events (such as the 1500m freestyle or the 10km marathon) might be of interest to Bond, although, reminiscing about his adventures, he might wonder how the swimmers would manage with a barracuda or two snapping at their toes. However, Bond would probably give the equestrian events a miss. Fleming had a life-long dislike of riding after bad experiences on horses during his youth and at Sandhurst. It is an antipathy that Bond is likely to share.

The film Bond has slightly divergent interests. We know from Die Another Day that Bond is handy with the sword, and so might watch some of the fencing events. In Moonraker, Bond takes part in a pheasant shoot, while in Thunderball Largo invites him to shoot a clay pigeon, and Bond might retain enough interest in the pastime to watch the trap shooting in London.

Lycett, A, 1995 Ian Fleming: the man behind James Bond, Turner