The Bond Films, part 2

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Continuing the series I started two years ago; better late than never.

You Only Live Twice

So Bond gets fake executed, buried at sea in Hong Kong, carried into a submarine, neatly but predictably requests permission to come aboard, then gets briefed on his mission.

…and is near-immediately dropped off in Japan. Hell, Royal Navy submarines move fast!

One thing that’s interesting about watching the Bond films is that you can spot geopolitical and other trends simply in the themes and locations that the films cover. Thus, the rise of postwar Japan as an industrial power explains Japan as the main setting for the film.

It actually starts pretty well and a real highlight is the delightful Akiko Wakabayashi as Bond’s love interest, Aki. This, funnily enough, is the source of my main gripe with the film. She’s a smart and capable spy herself, saves Bond’s life and falls in love with him. Then she dies taking poison meant for Bond – and he doesn’t seem to care. Never in the entire series is Bond ever a cad more than he is in this movie.

Tiger Tanaka is also a great character, but the slide that leads to his headquarters, and his secret train, are both so incredibly contrived that you can’t take them seriously.

And then there’s Bond disguised as a Japanese fisherman, and that long light sequence atop the volcano.

Don’t get me wrong. I genuinely liked the film. I just think it could very easily have been better.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

Famously George Lazenby’s only outing as Bond, and a film wrongly considered by many to be one of the best of the series. Actually, Lazenby isn’t nearly as deficient an actor as is commonly said, and we get something with him that we never had with Connery – at times, his Bond seems genuinely frightened.

Another intriguing detail is that during a lot of the film Bond clearly has an assistance who never seems to be named. According to Wikipedia he is Shaun Campbell. It’s after Campbell’s death and Bond’s flight that Bond is scared.

For me, a highlight of the film is seeing the Swiss locations. Having been several times to Lauterbrunnen Valley I certainly recognised it in the film. Blofield’s lair, called Schilthorn, is an absolute highlight of the Jungfrau region.

Weirdly, the thing about the movie that doesn’t work for me is the love story. After a bit of conflict Bond inexplicably falls in love with Tracy in about 90 seconds flat. And yes, I’m being serious.

And then the film is the love story and the mission story awkwardly pasted together, and it doesn’t really work. And it ends, well… badly.

Still, one bit of trivia that probably isn’t that well known: Gabriele Ferzetti, who plays Bond’s father-in-law, is the same actor who played the crippled rail magnate in Once Upon a Time in the West.

Diamonds Are Forever

This is the movie that Connery made a comeback for. It is unfortunately the one undeniable turkey among the Connery Bonds. I’m not saying it’s the worst Bond film made but it’s certainly down there.

It involves diamond smuggling, it’s set main in Las Vegas, it’s actually quite a dull film, and you won’t believe it’s as bad as it is. But it is. Even the henchman, a pair of gay assassins, are on the nose.

Can I think of anything good to say about the movie? Only the brief scene in Amsterdam when Bond pretends the man who tried to kill him was called James Bond. “You can’t just kill James Bond and get away with it,” says Tiffany Case. Amen to that.

Live and Let Die

Roger Moore’s first outing as Bond and pretty much a return to form for the series. Yes, this one is pretty good.

The Bond films reflect the social more of the times, and it’s no real surprise that Shaft was made two years earlier. We are now deep in the blaxploitation era and boy is that obvious. Felix Leiter is now black. Rather than an industrialist we now have a drug baron as our chief baddie. And for some reason there’s a strong voodoo element.

I suppose the film is an odd fish in that Q does not appear and gadget use is kept to a minimum but on the upside the speedboat chase is pretty darned good and even better, on both occasions where the villain tries to kill Bond in an unusually complicated way, it actually feels pretty natural.

Do I have anything bad to say about the film? Well, the complicated plot whereby one bad guy turns out to be another is pretty contrived. But overall it’s a pretty good effort. Heck, even the theme song is pretty good.

The Melancholy Roman

Ned Kelly

Ned Kelly was a cop killer. He certainly wasn’t a hero.

There, I said it.

On Boxing Day (26 December for the Americans out there) I stopped off briefly at Glenrowan. It’s a small town now bypassed by the Hume Freeway but famous in Australia for being the site of Ned Kelly’s last stand. I went there literally out of curiosity, because I was passing by. But it was 35°C and far less comfortable in the street than the air-conditioned comfort of my car. I stopped long enough to photograph the big Ned Kelly statue that you see above. I also saw the plaque in front of it, part of which reads:

Ned Kelly – Hanged a murderer in Melbourne, November 11, 1880 – not 26 years old – described as a rebel, bushranger by necessity, a bush battler, underdog, sometimes gentleman, sometimes larrikin and a man with a strong sense of family.

In a country born of brutal convict settlement, the Kellys were one of many to suffer the English notions of class distinctions, property and land tenure and Anglo-Irish hatreds. With the continued persecution of his family by the police, Ned fought back. The donning of his armour made from plough mould boards here at Glenrowan, June 1880, made Ned Kelly an Australian Legend.

About an hour away by car I came to the similarly small town of Euroa. There you can find a sign on the side of a building where the bank used to stand. This sign says:

December 10th 1878 saw a daring raid by the Kelly Gang on the 2nd Euroa National Bank, built at this site in 1876.

Ned, Dan & Steve held the bank. Joe stayed at Faithful’s Creek Station 3.5 miles away guarding captives taken the previous night.

The gang took £2,260, gold and 14 hostages in a hijacked hawker’s wagon & spring cart. That night, 37 people were left at the station when the gang escaped into the Strathbogie’s.

The present building was built in 1974 using the original bricks.

One can hardly fault Glenrowan or Euroa playing up their Ned Kelly connections because he remains very famous indeed and the association is good for tourism. However the proclamation of Ned’s heroism, with one notable exception, is completely unjustified. The exception is the time he saved a child from drowning – his one noble act in an otherwise ignoble life.

Ned Kelly was undoubtedly intelligent, almost certainly charismatic, a natural leader and a talented self-publicist. However he was also an unrepentant cop-killer and despite his protestations there was no justification for his criminal acts. Was his family persecuted by the police? Possibly, but then they were a criminal family. There were plenty of other people who lived in the area who didn’t behave as the Kellys did.

The notion of Irish persecution doesn’t really stand up to scrutiny either. Peter Lalor, famous for leading the Eureka Rebellion in Ballarat, was Irish. As it happens, the Eureka Rebellion took place in the same month that Ned Kelly was born. Lalor had been elected several times to the Victorian Legislative Council by the time Kelly was hanged.

Kelly tried to justify his actions in his Jerilderie Letter of 1889. I used to read a lot of true crime and in the letter we hear his voice, which is the same self-pitying dribble used by any other criminal. He never took responsibility for his actions.

The Ned Kelly mythology won’t ever be erased. Too many people have found it useful and the idea of his rebelling against a cruel establishment is attractive to people with their own agendas. But we don’t celebrate the Walsh Street killers, nor the murderers of Gary Silk and Rodney Miller. I don’t think we should celebrate Ned Kelly either.

The Melancholy Roman