Updating James Bond to the 1980s was probably a novel idea at the time. But now it doesn’t make so much sense. Like the more recent Carte Blanche, No Deals, Mr. Bond is a decent thriller. Jeffrey Deaver’s Bond will probably be much more dated in 25 years than Gardner’s Bond works are today. Still, I can’t bring myself to approve of updating the literary (hardboiled, Tory pulp hero) Bond to the “present day”—whenever that happens to be.
Posts tagged James Bond
In my latest review for Crime Fiction Lover, I move from Chandler to the ubiquitous James Patterson. I would list all the ways I was underwhlemed and disappointed by Kill Alex Cross, but you can read all about that in the review.
In October, Alex Cross will make his return to the big screen. Cross was previously played by Morgan Freeman in Kiss the Girls (1997) and Along Came a Spider (2001). Middling films, but not for lack of a talented star. Idris Elba was initially slated to star in the new film, I, Alex Cross. But the film’s title and star have been changed. So mark your calendars, October will bring you Alex Cross starring…Tyler Perry?
Yes, sportsfans. I don’t mean to knock Tyler Perry. He may be much more talented than he has shown heretofore, and he may make a credible action hero. But there is no way in all blue blazes he will be better than Idris Elba would have been. (Unless the Alex Cross movie is as awful as Kill Alex Cross, in which case Tyler Perry is welcome to have it.)
I think Idris Elba is overdue for leading man roles on the big screen. And no, funny-hatted intergalactic gatekeeper in Thor is not what I had in mind. I’m talking about James Bond, or something comparable. If the world is ready for a black Batman, I think he would do Bruce and Bats very well.
Given my reservations about Patterson’s thrillers, it may be just as well that Elba won’t be starring in Alex Cross. But certainly Luther (or The Wire, or Ultraviolet—yeah, go check that one out) has proved he should be starring in something.
Leslie Charteris’ florid pulp creation has been brought to life a number of times. Roger Moore is one of the best remembered. Indeed, Moore is arguably better as Simon Templar than as James Bond. Vendetta for the Saint was initially two episodes of the Saint television show in which Moore starred. The episodes, based on the novel of the same name, were spliced into a movie when was then released in cinemas.
The novel was ghostwritten by sci-fi novelist Harry Harrison, though Charteris edited Harrison’s manuscript significantly to put his own stamp on the final product. The movie is a more or less straightforward adaptation of Harrison’s story. The guest stars are not likely to impress anyone, nor are the action scenes.
But the Vendetta for the Saint has Moore. He exudes urbanity and devil-may-care wit. His shortcomings as an action hero are unsatisfactory to modern eyes accustomed to Jason Bourne or Daniel Craig as Bond. But if one does not like pulp escapism, one should not be watchingThe Saint (a fact that somehow eluded makers of the feature film starring Val Kilmer). The Saint was always a foppish but roguish pulp hero. With the possible exception of Vincent Price on the radio, no one has been better at portraying Simon Templar than Roger Moore.
With the news that William Boyd is going to be the latest Bond continuation author, I decided it was high time to read the most recent Bond continuation novel: Jeffrey Deaver’s Carte Blanche. Deaver joined the ranks of previous Bond continuation novelists Kingsley Amis, John Gardner, Raymond Benson and Sebastian Faulks.
If we were to compare Deaver to other Bond novelists, he would be in the middle of the pack. If it were not a Bond novel, Carte Blanche would be an adequate thriller novel rather than a disappointment. Deaver is certainly is not as bad as the glorified fanfiction of Raymond Benson. But Deaver should not be compared to these authors. In attempting to reboot the Bond franchise in the 21st century, Deaver can only be compared to Bond’s first appearance in Casino Royale.
The comparison is not flattering to Deaver. Fleming told his tale with verve, style, economy. Deaver’s Bond, by comparison, is a generic action hero in a bloated plot. Deaver’s prose cannot compare to Fleming’s. He tries to cobble together the elements of a Bond novel and translate them to the 21st century. It is not apparent to this reader that he is capable of either—he certainly cannot do both.
One has only to look at the final line of each novel to ascertain the differences. Fleming’s Bond is a hardboiled, brutally efficient Cold Warrior who deserves his double-0 status. ”Yes, dammit, I said ‘was.’ The bitch is dead now.” Deaver isn’t altogether comfortable with this attitude in the War on Terror, and tries to humanize Bond: “And, if he correctly recalled the poem Philly Maidenstone had so elegantly quoted, travelling fast meant travelling alone.”
Casino Royale was published in 1953, and the series has shown enormous longevity. Carte Blanche proved to be a serviceable thriller. But if it had actually been the first Bond novel, as opposed to an aborted reboot, we would not be talking about the franchise nearly sixty years later.
As we wait for Skyfall this autumn, let us not forget that everyone’s favorite hardboiled spy continues his adventures in literature as well. William Boyd has been chosen by the Fleming estate to write the latest Bond continuation novel, due in late 2013. (No, not Hopalong Cassidy. That’s an entirely different vein of pulp.)
The most recent Bond continuation novel, Carte Blanche, was written by American thriller (and sometimes noir) novelist Jeffrey Deaver. I haven’t read it yet, but it was not well-received. I intend to read Carte Blanche before I draw my final conclusions, but what I know of the novel suggests that Deaver deserved the abuse. Carte Blanche is set in the current day, a would-be “reboot” of the franchise.
The reboot has thankfully failed. James Bond doesn’t need an iPhone. Boyd’s new novel will be set in the late 1960s. The continuation novel preceding Deaver’s, Sebastian Faulks’ Devil May Care, was also set in the same period. I rather liked Devil May Care, though it was not popular among Ian Fleming fans. The principal cause for disdain was Faulk’s stylistic aping of Fleming; “Sebastian Faulks writing as Ian Fleming,” said the book’s jacket.
After the godawful fan fiction of Raymond Benson (really, airport novels would have been a step up for him), I should think fans would like something more similar to Fleming. Instead, they viewed the move as a sign that Faulks (a widely acclaimed novelist) didn’t think Bond worthy of his talent. Methinks the fanboy doth protest too much. Devil May Care was somewhat derivative, but it followed Fleming’s pattern with verve.
Boyd is already insisting that ”there will be a kind of Boydian element in the new novel,” so hopefully this mollifies potential detractors. For my part, I look forward to the new novel. Bond, as I have insisted over and over, is a very Tory pulp hero. The Fleming Bond novels are far more nuanced that most people (familiar only with the sometimes cheesy films) know. But they are still hardboiled. In these duals veins, I was heartened to see Boyd list Bond among great literary characters such as Augie March and Huckleberry Finn—and more importantly, to also include Philip Marlowe on that list.
thelamplightersserenade asked: Do you have recommendations for spy novels? I've read Tinker Tailor and plan to read the rest of the Karla trilogy, I have the IPCRESS Files on my list, and the Company. Do you have any cold war films/novels you can recommend?
John le Carré’s Cold War novels are good (his post-Cold War novels are less so). I would especially recommend The Spy Who Came in From the Cold (and the movie with Richard Burton). I have a number of espionage novels around, I just have yet to read them all. The definitive Cold War neo-noir is probably The Manchurian Candidate, though the novel by Richard Condon is not really noir. The Third Man also deals with international politics, as do a number of other Graham Greene novels.
Eric Ambler wrote some hardboiled spy thrillers. The Fallen Sparrow, by the always excellent Dorothy B. Hughes, has some foreign intrigue in the plot. Richard Hershatter and Andrew Garve wrote pulpy espionage novels, as did Donald Hamilton (Matt Helm doesn’t remotely resemble Dean Martin, by the way).
And let us not forget Ian Fleming’s James Bond. As I have argued previously, I think James Bond is a hardboiled hero. Especially in Casino Royale, which has near-noirish fatalism. In the other novels, the noir elements are perhaps less apparent. But he is a hardboiled, pulpy hero—a Tory Mike Hammer, if you will.
Here’s a great video of Toby Stephens recording the BBC Philip Marlowe radio plays, interspersed with his commentary about the same. He notes Ian Fleming’s affinity for Chandler. Stephens has played not only Marlowe, but also James Bond in a series of BBC radio plays. This makes him just about the luckiest man alive in my book.
Some people will quibble with Stephens’ accent. I’m not sure whether it’s Southern Californian enough (and this is the Southern California c. 1940), or whether Ed Bishop is more Californian. I’m not an expert on the history of accents, so I can’t say. But I think his accent is beautifully expressive of the character, if not the region. His phrasing and his timing are perfect for the tough-guy dialogue. Stephens draws the listener in the way Chandler’s words draw a reader.
As you may have seen, the first picture from the impending James Bond movie Skyfall was released earlier in the week. This isn’t noir, as far as I know. The Bond franchise probably isn’t built for bleak noir à la James M. Cain or Cornell Woolrich. But let’s not forget, noir is an appendage of hardboiled. I would suggest that James Bond is another such offshoot.
Put simply, Bond is a pulp hero. Is the Bond of Fleming’s novels really all that different from Mike Hammer? The anti-communism, the womanizing, the brutality. Now James Bond is a very Tory pulp hero, certainly. But compare him to another Tory pulp hero—Leslie Charteris’ The Saint—and it is perfectly obvious that Bond is hardboiled through and through. The last line of Casino Royale? “The bitch is dead.”
The movies have sometimes ranged far afield, though it’s hard to argue that even Octopussy was that much more ridiculous than Armand Assante’s turn as Mike Hammer I, the Jury. The first couple films show Bond as a sort of international detective. He might have more panache than Marlowe, but Marlowe was Aristotle compared to earlier pulp detectives.
What say you? How would you classify Fleming’s novels? Or the continuation novels?
Will Romola Garai be the next Christina Hendricks?
More importantly, is this noir? I don’t really think so. But it’s a darn good show. It easily could have been a noirish, hardboiled spy thriller à la Graham Greene or Eric Ambler. Think The Third Man diluted by Mad Men-style office politics and shenanigans.
I love Mad Men, but there’s a reason they stick to Don Draper’s personal drama and haven’t made him a CIA plant. Hell, James Bond (in the Ian Fleming novels, if not all of the movies) is a secret agent and still has rather hardboiled, pulp sensibilities. I like this show, but wish they’d upped the noir factor a bit. The two halves of The Hour—i.e., the Mad Men-wannabe office drama and the Cold War spy plot—are curiously bifurcated.