MOVIE SHELF: COMPARING FILMS TO THEIR LITERARY COUNTERPARTS
paul cooney on
LEWIS GILBERT'S THE SPY WHO LOVED ME
based on the novel THE SPY WHO LOVED ME by IAN FLEMING
Welcome to Movie Shelf, a series that compares the films on our dvd shelves to the novels on our bookcases. I've always been fascinated by screenplay adaptation: what a script writer takes from the original source material, what he changes, how the two different works vary from each other and what the existence of the movie itself says about the book and vice versa. All this and more will be examined in this ongoing line of articles. - john cribbs
Modeling his reputation as an elusive gentleman of leisure and international bon vivant off England's favorite secret agent, Paul Cooney is a long-time watcher of the James Bond film series but a recent first-time reader of the original Ian Fleming novels they're based on. His experience with Mr. Fleming and his literary world of 007 have offered far less than a quantum of solace. Here are some sample excerpts from Paul's scathing reviews:
The Hildebrand Rarity: "Someone murders a guy on a yacht by stuffing a fish into his mouth and he chokes to death. Bond finds him shortly after the murder and...uses his secret agent powers to find and stop the killer before he strikes again? They're on a yacht after all and there are only about five people total on board...no! Incredibly Bond decides he deserved it and helps whoever committed the murder cover it up! Just throws the body overboard, even though he doesn't know who did it!"
Goldfinger: "Bond is captured by Goldfinger. He wakes up on a gurney thinking he's in heaven, but turns out he's at an NYC airport listening to Goldfinger give some NYC doc a bullshit story about his two employees who suffered nervous breakdowns...what??? A billionaire smuggler can't find a better way to smuggle two people into a country?? Bond says to the doc, 'I'm James Bond! We've been kidnapped and drugged...call x y and z and they'll vouch for me!' Well he's got you now, Goldfinger...looks like you're busted. Oh wait, Goldfinger says, 'Ho ho...what did i tell you? He's kind of crazy...better give the poor fellow more drugs.' And the doctor does it!! 'Sure thing Mr. Goldfinger!' I hate you, Ian Fleming!"
For Your Eyes Only: "So inferior to the movie: no East Germans tossing motorbikes, no careening down mountains in jalopies, no mountain climbing and throwing daggers...kind of a short and lame story that ends bizarrely and abruptly, after Bond praises someone for calling something a 'quantum of solace' by saying 'That's an excellent description.' Actually Bond you stupid fucking drunk, that's a terrible description. Generally when you describe something and 99% of people reply, 'What? What the fuck does that mean?' you haven't described it well."
No, you haven't! That reminds me of the moment in Burgess' book when Alex sees the manuscript for "A Clockwork Orange" and is intrigued by the title. But what does it mean?! I guess the studios enjoy those meaningless combination of words, since they used it as the title of Kubrick's movie and, more recently, Quantum of Solace for the last (maybe even last-last??) James Bond outing.
Anyway, with Mr. Cooney's expert deconstruction of these original Bond adventures I was curious what he thought of The Spy Who Loved Me, which is famous for being the first book from which the movie took nothing but the title, using none of the plot or supporting characters. It was the tenth of the Bond books, and seemed to be a direct reaction by Fleming to allegations of misogyny aimed at the man behind Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, whose 007 series had also been criticized for its barely disguised racism and rampant homophobia. Among the famous "Bond girls" with brutal backstories in the books are Dr. No's Honey Ryder (raped as a young girl by her landlord), Goldfinger's Pussy Galore (sexually abused by an uncle at the age of 12, which turned her into a lesbian) and Diamonds Are Forever's Tiffany Case (gang-raped as a youth.) Then there's You Only Live Twice's Kissy Suzuki who, after Bond suffers a head injury and becomes an amnesiac, doesn't clue him in on his true identity - that way, she figures, he'll stay with her forever in her fishing village. She gets knocked up by Bond on purpose to get him to marry her, but - and this is what actually happens - one day he's taking a shit, looks at some toilet paper and sees a name he recognizes (on the toilet paper!) that brings his memory back. He abandons the pregnant girl and returns to a life of disguised gadgets and vodka martinis. And those are just the few examples I know of.
The author himself was infamous for indulging in several sado-masochistic relationships, and critics often speculated that the man brought some of his own dismissive attitude towards the fairer sex into the fantasy Uber-male that was James Bond. His answer to these claims was to make The Spy Who Loved Me a first-person narrative told through the perspective of a sensitive young woman. Did he succeed? What do you think Paul, did Fleming redeem himself with this little experiment?
THE SPY WHO LOVED ME - THE BOOK
You're in the 60's, you have a bean bag chair and you hate your hippie older brother and hope he gets drafted and killed in 'Nam. After sneaking a peek at a Playboy in which the girls have not yet been introduced to the Lady Gilette, you scamper home and curl up with the latest James Bond novel hoping to read it before your mom yells down at you that the burned meatloaf is ready. You think you're going to kill a couple of hours entranced in the amazing adventures of international super spy James Bond as he globe trots and bed hops and shoots a whole bunch of bad guys don't you?
Wrong! If you had the misfortune of picking up The Spy Who Loved Me you'd be wasting your fucking time! The book is not better than the movie! It's not even fucking close! That drunken foof Ian Fleming apparently thought that his incredibly successful and profitable Bond franchise could be improved if he focused instead on the melodramatic meanderings of some dopey French Canadian broad. Did he really write this or did he steal a manuscript from the desk of Judy Blume's alcoholic aunt?
Fleming actually opens the book with a prologue in which he purports to have received a manuscript from a woman detailing her scary time in the motel until she met the amazing James Bond. Here it is, in its deplorable entirety:
"I found what follows lying on my desk one morning. As you will see, it appears to be the first person story of a young woman, evidently beautiful and not unskilled in the arts of love. According to her story, she appears to have been involved, both perilously and romantically, with the same James Bond whose secret service exploits I myself have written from time to time. With the manuscript was a note signed 'Vivienne Michel' assuring me that what she had written was 'purest truth and from the depths of her heart.' I was interested in this view of James Bond, through the wrong end of the telescope so to speak, and after obtaining clearance for certain minor infringements of the Official Secrets Act I have much pleasure in sponsoring its publication."
It was so goddamn embarrassingly stupid that it was removed from later editions and replaced with a foreword that simply stated: This book sucks.
This horrendous tale opens with some chick escaping molestation and going for a walk in the woods. The initial diagnosis? She's a narcissistic cocktease. Do I want to root for that? Is that the kind of protagonist I expect to find in a James Bond novel? No it fucking isn't! No one at the publishing house had the balls to throw this insipid manuscript back in Fleming's pasty stupid face and so readers around the world are forced to endure this silly nonsense.
Instead of international intrigue and cold war terror the reader is subjected to the dull musings of some idiot who remarks at length about her hatred of pine trees. Pine trees! When she finishes castigating lovely trees she waxes conceited about how great she looks in 'black velvet toreador pants with their rather indecent gold zip down seat." Well lah ti dah I'm following a demented whore through a walk in the woods. Where the fuck is my secret agent? I want my 75 cents back Fleming!
She finally leaves the trees behind long enough to get groped in a movie theater. Real classy, Fleming. Is this character based on your mother? This daffy dame lets some sweet talking cad convince her that the best place for her to lose her virginity is on a movie theater floor! Gross! Think of the crushed Milk Duds woman! Her clothes are askew and body open and that rascal is about to perform the deed when the heroic theater manager bursts upon them and casts them out into the night where the streetlamps throw down their golden glow of shame. Harlot!
What the hell kind of spy novel am I reading when so far the only action has been a prudish movie theater manager tossing out a couple of horny losers who were just trying to get it on on the disgusting theater floor?
After she squirts a few tears her caddish boyfriend convinces her to fuck in the park instead, and Princess Not So Bright complies. Of course he then promptly dumps her. Bravo sir! Unfortunately we never see nor hear from this character again, even though he seems pretty smooth and has some sense. Certainly he is more interesting than this dolt Fleming is forcing us to spend time getting to know and loathe. Is the cad breaking more hearts at Oxford? We can only hope!
Instead of finding that out we endure further boring misadventures with little miss stupid head as she gets a new job and meets a German caricature named Kurt, who finds jazz decadent. Wow this dummy really finds some winners. Kurt is actually engaged to another but inexplicably details his future bizarrely intricate and meticulous sex life regimen to Dopey, his employee. Sex on Wednesday and Sunday only for Kurt! These details, for some unknown reason, turn our brainless heroine on. Ian Fleming must have had an erection as he wrote this. There is no other explanation.
Of course Little Miss Not Unskilled in the Arts of Love gets preggos by the German, and Kurt gallantly pays for the abortion in Switzerland and then sensibly dumps her. And fires her. Are we supposed to feel sympathy for the heroine here Mr Fleming? Cause my contempt for her is only exceeded by the blinding hatred I have for you for writing something so false and awful. I hate you.
After being dumped Dopey buys a Vespa and somehow winds up in upstate New York working at a dingy little motel, for free of course. Christ - she is stupid. She is all by her lonesome on her last night there when who shows up but two ludicrous characters ridiculously named Sluggsy and Horror. Sluggsy and Horror! Ian Fleming please tell me you were annihilated on painkillers when you wrote this nonsense!
Fleming conveys American tough guy idioms about as well as he captures the inner thoughts of a young French-Canadian girl. You mean a prissy, vain, 50-something English snob can't accurately capture the persona of a horny and stupid young woman or two American tough guys? That's shocking.
Horror and Sluggsy quickly inform Dopey that they plan on raping her, and not in the nice way. Just in case the reader didn't realize these two cats were bad he refers to them as "dynamite from Nightmare Land."
Somewhere there is a pimply faced 12-year-old holding his spy novel manuscript and saying, "Holy shit I'm more talented than Ian Fleming!"
Dynamite from Nightmare Land! Did Fleming not have editors? Not a single friend in the entire world who would say to him, "Umm ...asshole? You know other people are going to see this right? This book is going to be published. Are you trying to make a fool of yourself?"
Isn't this a Bond novel? Where is that tuxedo wearing jack-off of all trades? Dopey attempts to escape a couple times and there are knives thrown and more promises of rape and violence and much eggs and bacon and toast being made, and it really completely sucks until finally there is Jimbo!
Who? Oh yes this is a James Bond novel! How odd that it took 100 pages for him to appear. Funnily enough he's not on a mission, just happened to be driving through upstate New York and stopped at a crappy motel in the middle of nowhere right as the stupidest girl alive was about to be raped and beaten. (I thought Bond was a jet-setter who stayed at 5 star places eating foods only fit for French fairies and spoiled ingenues? Whatever.)
They try to tell Bond the motel is closed and to beat it, but Bond, even though he's not on a mission, insists he gets a room, pointing out the vacancy sign and being kind of a literal dick. "I've got connections in Albany!"
Fuck you you, douche! These two hoods have guns and are planning on burning the motel and killing the girl, why would they put up with sass from some stranger asshole, especially since he's now a witness? They wouldn't! But Fleming sucks!
Instead of killing him they agree to give him a room and even let the girl alone with him! Ummm you realize she is going to tell him you guys are murdering rapists right? Ian Fleming you are a gigantic tool! So the second Dopey is alone with Bond she breathlessly tells him, "Those men aren't the motel managers, they've been beating me and they're going to kill me...nice car."
Nice car! She compliments Bond's car! Was it really that fantastic that a chick who moments before was fighting for her life and under the threat of a double rape would frantically tell this stranger the danger she's in and then pause to compliment his wheels?
How does Bond respond to this incredible news? "It's a rental."
Wow. Now that is suave. I guess Fleming might be on target with this scene, as I've never had a strange woman rush up to me and tell me that just before I showed up she was being beaten and in danger of being raped and murdered, but I like to think that I would have the cool presence of mind to engage in a little small talk about my jacket or the Yankees before getting to the more pressing matter. "Oh thanks, I got it last Christmas, spilled some chocolate pudding on it but some Spray and Wash got it off. Now then, what's this you say about you being raped and murdered later?"
Back inside the motel Dopey sets out to make bacon, eggs, toast and coffee for the 3rd time that night! Fleming you have an odd fetish for that particular breakfast? Shockingly enough it does not make for riveting read the third go 'round.
Sluggsy does liven things up a little by drolly stating that Bond, James Bond is a "chump name." Zing! Bond lets the name "Sluggsy" get past without a quip. Too obvious?
Bond and Dopey then have private chat over eggs. Umm wouldn't the two crooks want to keep those two apart? Aren't they worried they might plan their escape? Bond says to Dopey, "If we get out of this, I'm going after these two."
Umm...hotshot? World's greatest superspy? These are two small time hoods in a cheap motel in upstate New York. You're James Freakin' Bond! You have a gun they don't know about! Their guns aren't even drawn! They think you're just some chump who showed up looking for a room! Pull out your gun and take them down! A goddamn rookie cop in Des Moines would handle this better!
Instead of doing that or escaping with the girl he bores her with a story of his latest mission in Canada, where it seems through his incompetence and poor planning Bond got two mounties killed. True story! One of the mounties even wanted to improve Bond's derelict strategy but Bond shook him off, and thus Canada lost two of her finest ridiculous-looking policemen. Incidentally it does not pay to assist Bond. He seems to survive well enough but a large number of agents, policemen, innocent bystanders and Good Samaritans who come to his aid seem to die. Maybe he sucks after all and just has a great PR man.
After story time does Bond leap into action to save the girl and foil the thugs? Almost. He tells Dopey to get some sleep! What? Considering two thugs are planning on raping and murdering her is calling it a night the best course of action? I have my doubts. And is this chick narcoleptic? Gee Bond you think she might have a little trouble sleeping tonight what with two criminals having already beat her and with their promising to rape and murder her later...you think that might cause her to lie awake?
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