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Member Since 01 Mar 2008
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In Topic: Revisiting Thunderball

10 May 2017 - 10:17 AM

Or the contrivances involved in getting Silva to a specific briefing room at a specific time so he could specifically escape again in time for a train to drop in.


Plus ca change...


I don't think that's anything to do with the editing - I expect that was in the SF scenario from the start because they wanted to include the stuff left out from a prospective unused chase in OHMSS. My point is in TB there is already a reasonable time frame which runs:

meet Domino, Quist follows Bond to hotel, Bond assaults him, meets Leiter, Quist is killed by Largo, Bond meets Paula and Pinder and Q (Big Ben strikes 7), casino scene, underwater scene beneath the Disco.


But because they (Maibaum, Hopkins, Young, McClory) hadn't done the appropriate script revision to leave pointers in the dialogue (ie: when Big Ben needs to strike 7, why Bond visits the casino, why he's interested in the Disco Volante), they reversed the scenes so now Bond visits the casino before everything else. You can tell there was originally more to this whole sequence because at the casino, if your quick, you'll notice in the background a point when 007 is talking to Leiter before the audience even knows they've met !


I also understand that when Bond infiltrates Largo's villa there was meant to be a scene where he sees a set of wheeled tracks leading from the basement exit doors down a pathway to the inlet. This is the sort of detail which wouldn't slip past most modern writers / directors, although I think its fair to say they all make mistakes in most films somewhere.

In Topic: Revisiting Thunderball

09 May 2017 - 12:27 AM

I recently revisited Thunderball - the first time for some years as I prefer not to over indulge in Bond for fear familiarity will breed contempt. 

I have always enjoyed TB and did so again. I could indulge you all for many sentences about what I consider good, very good and outstanding and also what I consider fairly dreadful.

In short, excellent: score, PTS, credits, costumes, Connery, Claudine Auger, Luciana Paluzzi, photography, special effects, plot.

Very good: sense of fun, Adolfo Celi, sound, introduction to SPECTRE, climatic fight

Good: scenes at Airforce HQ and the Ops Room, the stuff at Shrublands, most of the underwater stuff, death of Vargas, junkano chase

Poor: back projection (and not just the final fight, there's a lot of generally poor backgrounds), too many characters surrounding the main players, the two henchmen  

Dreadful: the underwater battle from the point 007 enters the fray, script editing, film editing 


Its the final two points I'm interested in. While the general cut and thrust is fine, particularly so during the fights and the witty dialogue-orientated scenes, and the overall pace of the piece feels good, for the first time ever I noticed that editor and director (Peter Hunt and Terence Young) seem to have deliberately shuffled the early scenes in Nassau to create a day for Bond to do his investigations.


At the Ops Room briefing, I was sure Big Ben was meant to strike an extra note THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW. Bond has about 48 hours to go before things get tetchy.

Given he must have flown out the next morning, or at best the night of the briefing, he arrives in Nassau and on his first day meets Domino. It is assumed by the writers (and therefore the audience) he knows where to find her - ie, with Largo, as Bond has a dossier on her.

This isn't a surprise, but what is is: despite clearly being followed by a stooge and a man in sunglasses, both of whom are distinctly suspicious, the next scene is set at the casino the same night. What's BOnd been doing since lunch? Why is he at the casino? We know he likes a gamble, but how did he know Largo and Domino would be there? This is poor screenwriting. There should have been an invite or a hint somewhere in Bond / Domino's lunch meet.

During that casino scene, Bond learns Largo is staying aboard that night, but he does nothing about it.

The next scene, set the next day, has 007 wearing the exact same clothes he wore during his lunch meet, going to his hotel room and assaulting the stooge who followed him - who is also wearing the same outfit as before. Felix Leiter turns up - also decked in yesterday's threads.

Then there is a scene where the stooge is fed to the sharks which seems to imply Largo is aware who Bond is, but at this point I'm not sure he is. It makes no sense to kill the guy, especially as all he's meant to be doing is keeping his binoculars pinned on Domino.

Put that aside; when Bond enters Pinder's place, the news that Big Ben has struck an extra note is on the radio. So we now know, given international time zones, that the 48 hours have passed. But what exactly has Bond been doing in Nassau except swimming and gambling? At this point he decides to look over the Disco Volante, but how did he reach this conclusion? Simply because Largo's thug was in his bathroom? 

His logic is more guess work than instinct.

A little more script guidance could have smoothed this section out completely.

The editing, including the costume duplication, suggest the events were initially supposed to follow in a logical and condensed one day time frame. The attempt to stretch is really doesn't work because they clearly cocked up somewhere in the script editing stage. Easier surely to change the time that Big Ben strikes 'seven'.

The lack of narrative direction doesn't really improve. The character of Paula should have been script edited out as she is superfluous to requirements. Bond doesn't need her kidnap to entice him to visit Largo's villa, he ought to have his suspicions roused during his lunch with Largo, a brief few scenes which do nothing to develop the plot at all. There's also no reason for Domino to mention the little inlet - but a tweak to her line, to perhaps mention that Largo has been training his divers there for the last two weeks might make it seem more acceptable. 


While I appreciate Peter Hunt's belief that it's better to leave some mistakes in and trust that the audience won't notice them so wrapped up are they in the action and humour, these little and large errors irk me now, where in the past I wouldn't have batted an eye.


Familiarity? Contempt? Maybe simply brassed off by the laziness. Despite my general apathy towards modern Bond movies, they certainly aren't as brazen as this in leaving their errors for all to see. I still enjoy TB tremendously, but seriously Mr Hunt and Mr Young (and I guess, given his massive creative input, Mr McClory) what were you thinking?

In Topic: Trigger Mortis: Member Reviews (with poll)

20 April 2017 - 02:41 PM

Review previously available on AJB. Nice poll BTW


Last year the well-known thriller writer Anthony Horowitz penned Trigger Mortis, the latest in a loose series of revisionist Bond novels by contemporary authors attempting to revisit and reimagine Ian Fleming’s 1950s hero for a modern audience. The first three entries have had rather mixed results; each has some gem of interest, but none has been paved with gold. Horowitz mines a similar seam.


Trigger Mortis takes place immediately after Fleming’s own Goldfinger and utilizes the bones of a short story the Master abandoned called ‘Murder on Wheels’, an episode to be included in a prospective James Bond T.V. series. Horowitz has genuine passion for Fleming and his enthusiasm about the inclusion of this story is well intended. My concern is that he dotes on it too much and that in doing so he has now actually written two adventures poorly bound together.


There was a reason ‘Murder on Wheels’ was a short story: it hasn’t got the meat on the bones to sustain a novel’s full structure. Horowitz invitingly expands the motor racing scenario, but in doing so he relegates the original story to almost a footnote, which begs the question why he bothered to include it in the first place. More on that later. It is heartening to note the fine stuff on display here, including some well annotated racing scenes, but the author commits another tactical error by failing to place the villain centre stage during these early confrontations [unlike say in the opening chapters on Moonraker, Goldfinger or even Gardner’s License Renewed]. This allows the exercise to lose much of its significance later in the novel as the actions seem only barely related. In fact, the further I read, the less I cared about the events at the Nurburgring and the Soviet spy Ivan Dimitrov. So unsure is the author he has tagged on a sinister prologue describing the death of a prominent U.S. rocket scientist which, unlike the motor racing, is much more relevant to the overall narrative.


Horowitz also brings back one of Fleming’s own heroines, Pussy Galore, and has Bond engaged in a frigid relationship, warmed only by sex, both partners equally desperate to end it. There was much press fanfare about this, but when The Mail on Sunday makes a statement like: ‘the return of the best Bond girl of them all, I’d have to question the reasoning. Pussy hardly features in Goldfinger and for the most part she is a willing accessory to a madman’s plan. Her sudden change of heart is as unlikely as her seduction by James Bond. Her character, while consummately well-drawn, wasn’t believable. Perhaps though, her sudden change of heart here is a reasonable reflection of her indifference to commitment. 


In fairness Horowitz makes a decent stab at dissecting Bond’s home and love life. Added to this awkward domesticity is some stage-managed nastiness involving American hoodlums, nudity and gold paint at a Stone Age site, the Devil’s Own. All this early action though seems entirely irrelevant, merely another nod towards Fleming-ism, so much so we even have another softly spoken lesbian love affair for Pussy, this time provided by Bond’s racing instructor, the fetching Logan Fairfax. This grated with me too as while Horowitz has made much effort to affect Fleming’s world, one feels Bond’s creator would never have put the female of the species behind the wheel of a Cooper-Climax T43. It’s simply all too convenient in Horowitz’s world.


Once the motor race kicks off, the novel picks up considerably. A few exciting circuits of the Nurburgring later and Bond is attending a swish party at a grand castle and doing some surreptitious spying as he sips champagne. It’s all very grand, outrageous and good fun; very Fleming. I enjoyed the scenes at Schloss Bronsart. The introduction of both Sin Jai-Seong (the Korean bad guy, handily re-termed Jason Sin) and Jeopardy Lane (an American spy of dubious talents and many good looks) are handled well and there is an element of surprise and daring here. But too quickly Horowitz begins to make the same mistakes as all the other recent continuation authors. His villain becomes a pastiche of a Fleming creation – in this case Hugo Drax – and the heroine has to be a secret agent. This is a never spoken nod to the politically correct and wholly emancipated 21st century; Fleming’s women were rarely spies and when so rarely displayed such solid capabilities.


In fact, Jeopardy Lane is an excellent character. She is closer to Gala Brand, certainly in the sex-less friendship she strikes with OO7, but also in that she is intelligent, opinionated and prone to the occasional lapse which will put her and Bond in peril. Indeed, as I mention above, she felt a little too modern and that doesn’t sit well in a novel set in the late 1950s.


Jason Sin meanwhile is your typical rapscallion psychopath, a one dimensional deluded monster. I had little sympathy for him – I’m not sure the reader is supposed to – and his long winded tete-a-tete with bond only exposes the convoluted nature of his plan to destroy the Empire State Building. To do this, Sin plans to explode a device underneath the tower which will simulate the impact of falling debris from a Vanguard nuclear missile, one that will be destroyed in mid-air seconds before. I didn’t buy it for a minute. If Sin can successfully explode the missile, why doesn’t he simply explode it over New York in the first place? The potential ramifications would be the same, his aim of Soviet domination achieved; ah, but then there would be no long-winded train-borne climax for Horowitz to construct.


Before that extended and entirely forgettable enterprise we have the best section of the novel, where Bond plays Sin’s game of death and chooses his own execution from a stack of playing cards. This tense sequence is slightly spoilt by us already having seen it [a cinematic device Fleming would never have employed] and by Sin’s petulant displays; far better surely to have the adorable Jeopardy Lane seal Bond’s death warrant? After all she wouldn’t know the cards can be marked, would she? Mind, the nineteenth chapter, cryptically entitled ‘Six Feet Under’, is a proper tour-de-force of drama and suspense as our hero is buried alive in a bald coffin: “So dark in this tiny space. Blind. No room to move. The weight of the earth pressing down. No air.” There is a real sense of fear and futility. It’s a page turning scene indeed and reminiscent of the best of Ian Fleming.


The remainder of the piece, an extended chase through New York, is all a bit hit and miss. Much of it I could do without. Ends are neatly tied, nothing surprises. That sounds like a criticism, but I wouldn’t expect anything else in a Bond novel. Trigger Mortis is a comparative triumph compared to its immediate predecessors. It’s easy to read and I didn’t consider it poorly written. It isn’t as slack as Faulk’s Devil May Care, as intricate as Carte Blanche or as dull as Solo; in fact it’s very pacey and has a strong central character in an emotionally uncertain Bond, who only finds satisfaction in the danger of his work, but who fears his own death and the people who can administer it.


I feel I should say ‘Bravo!’ to Mr Horowitz. Trigger Mortis misses the florid speak of Fleming, but it doesn’t lack urgency and proceeds with some guile. It’s certainly on a par with the very best of Gardner as well as Kingsley Amis’s lone follow up Colonel Sun – a novel which feels better and better as more and more continuation stories appear. A touch less Fleming-fawning would aid this book’s impact, but I can’t argue that I didn’t enjoy it, for in the main I did. Bravo then, just.



In Topic: Philip McAlpine by Adam Diment

20 April 2017 - 02:32 PM

Think Inc.


Published a couple of years after the hit and miss affair of The Bang Bang Birds, Adam Diment’s Think Inc.  marks a genuine return to form for its author. Gone are the mocking tone and over indulgent scenes of sex and scandal. Gone are the sixties speak. Gone are the comic book happenings and the fey humour. In comes an adventure peppered with excitement and suspense, great characters, intelligent dialogue, adult relationships, fortune, misfortune and fistfuls of action. Even the cover design is more mature.


Think Inc is an illicit organisation comprised of a loose group of master criminals, led by the authoritarian Faustus, who extort, thieve and smuggle for a price, usually to their own benefit as well as others. Philip McAlpine falls into their hands because the British Secret Service at 6 (NC/NAC) believe he’s dead – they killed him, in his Ferrari; or so they thought.


McAlpine’s number is finally up. After a botched mission, Rupert Quine, his boss, gives him his final orders: “Get out, Philip, and stay out… Don’t push your luck. You don’t have much left.” And indeed he does not. The scene where he learns his own masters’ want permanently rid of him is particularly chillingly effective and epitomises much of the book: he witnesses it on the local news service in his suite at Claridges. It is simple, short and deadly effective, just like the car bomb.


The novel starts brilliantly too with a quick little foray in Ostia, Italy, where McAlpine has taken refuge. He’s subject to a kidnapping and fears Quine’s omens are ringing true: “I felt empty, sick and the first waves of fear were creeping like the tide across my mind.” This series of scenes enacts similar territory we’ve read and witnessed before in Fleming’s or EoN’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. There’s a vicious fight outside Faustus’ residence which ultimately draws McAlpine into the Capo’s world, one of high living, decadence, high stakes and loyalty.


Faustus is a fine chief heavy, not quite a villain, but not a heroic figure either, although McAlpine admires his imposing frame, remarking, “how incredibly ugly her was and how attractive it made him” and respects him immediately for his hands are calloused and honest “as Hemingway would have said.” The big Italian has a sidekick, Chastity, a beautiful Jamaican, who is the financial expert, the head chef and chief weed-roller. She’s also a dab hand between McAlpine’s sheets. Their relationship starts frostily but oozes sensuality and their eventual homely pairing feels like a catharsis of sorts for the permanently fractured hero.


From these opening chapters Diment develops his premise swiftly and effectively. McAlpine, as he often does, chases the cash on offer and joins Faustus’ Think Inc., first on a money laundering scheme, then a kidnap and lastly a mid-air bullion raid. The international cast of characters are well defined and I enjoyed their interplay as they execute and celebrate their achievements. Committee without bloodshed, Think Inc. appear a rather cerebral bunch of villains, but there is always menace, greed and secrets lurking beneath their cheerful exteriors. Perhaps only Chastity remains honest from core to skin, her interest mainly being stocks and shares, spliffs and sex. 


After the eventful theft of a suitcase full of counterfeit cash in Rome, the group high-tails it to Beirut where they plot the aforementioned bullion robbery, which is when McAlpine’s flying skills can be put to use. Before that however a minor kidnapping occurs, at the request of its supposed victim, a broody French movie star called Solange Dore, out to extort two hundred grand from the executives producing her latest film, one for which they stubbornly refuse to pay her more than scale.


This little interlude might be a misstep for the author, yet Diment handles the midsection so skilfully you hardly notice. Solange becomes a temptation for all the men, yet Faustus handles her with consummate ease and strengthens the bonds between his band of brothers in doing so. That McAlpine rejects her advances demonstrates his growing maturity as a character and solidifies his relationship with Chastity.


Holed up near the Aegean isle of Zenetha, Think Inc. hunt for sunken Greek treasure and Diment engages in some fun local descriptions which are half-way Zorba the Greek and part-way Guns of Navarone. The slightly dreamy, hedonistic idyll is shattered when a gun battle erupts with a ship full of arms dealers. This taut, tight few pages had me gripped, chiefly because at this point it is so unexpected: “I pressed the trigger, catapulted him upright in a horrible loose cartwheel… the shrill, mechanical chatter chanting death… whoever was up there had been mixed up with the fittings and pasted all round the wheelhouse.” McAlpine is suitably shocked.


There’s still more excitement to be had as the bullion raid goes horribly wrong and McAlpine ultimately realises he’s alone in the world wherever he turns and whoever he meets; that he’s really no better than one of the criminals he’s associating with. Faustus’ summation has rung true: “You have robbed, blackmailed, smuggled. You have entered countries on forged documents, transported wanted war criminals, habitually used violence to further your aims and murdered people… I admit they were performed with the doubtful blessing of your country, which turns a Nelsonian eye to this distasteful behaviour… It was not through any patriotism you performed them… Spies are government criminals.”


Perhaps my sole gripe about this excellent pulsatingly rapid read is the climax which, as was the fashion in the late sixties / early seventies, seems to happen all too fast and has open ended last lines. While it’s refreshing to believe Diment intended more McAlpine books [there weren’t; he took early retirement at twenty-eight] the denouement of Think Inc. misses a trick in that, surely, Rupert Quine ought to be in on the final gambit. Perhaps that’s a little too obvious a twist, but for once this is the sort of full-circle plotting I’d appreciate. As the novel currently concludes, McAlpine is as Faustus declared him to be: “one of the criminal classes.” That, for a hero, feels like rather a sour epitaph.


But let’s forget that grouch. Think Inc. is a brilliant novel, detailed, packing a big punch where it matters, pacey, sexy and very, very exciting. A thrill to read from start to finish. Excellent, Mr. Diment; now I wish you’d given us more.



In Topic: Trigger Mortis: Member Reviews (with poll)

10 April 2017 - 11:38 AM

Some nice reviews here.

Dustin and Double Naught Spy, you particularly, have written good takes, which both chime well with me, although I think I liked it a little more.

The problem I find with these continuation novels is, rather like the movies, I like the ones I read first.

So I love Wood's film adaptations (I was only age 9 and 10 at the time, but hey...) and I think Gardner's first three are excellent. I have a fondness for Colonel Sun and recognise the literary aspects of this novel; I also read this first when i was about 12 years old.

Other than Carte Blanche, I don't really rate any other continuations bar a few respectful nods here and there. Similarly with the possible exception of Casino Royale, I'm not over fond of any recent movies (post 1989). Even though I recognise there are a number of turkeys in the original 16 and appreciate the production qualities of the recent output, I'd rather watch one of the earlier Bond's than Brosnan's or Craig's long winded efforts.

I published a review on AJB last year; maybe I'll copy-and-paste it here.