13 May 2008

Please, a real, 1940s, Cold War James Bond!

The 28th of May is the centenary of Ian Fleming’s birth.

I read a few Bond books in my callow youth but I’ve never felt that they were as necessary a piece of pop-culture as, say, Raymond Chandler, whose books are a lot more fun.

The James Bond films on the other hand, are unavoidable. Even when they’re terrible, as they so often are, there is something effortlessly comfortable about the formula. I noticed this recently when local TV was running a season, and I watched most of them, but only up until the opening credits. As anyone familiar with the oeuvre would know, these are the bits containing a pointlessly thrilling action vignette which sometimes sets up the plot, and sometimes not.

By far the most pointless and irritating thing about Bond films is how they attempt to maintain the relevance of this sexist relic into the present day. To get a sense of what I mean, just try and imagine James Bond sitting in front of a PC trawling through hours of blog and Youtube posts for intelligence material, which is what most modern intelligence agencies spend a great deal of their time doing.

Watching one of the recent films (except Casino Royale, which is quite good), I often wish the ghost of Graham Chapman, in his Colonel’s uniform, would stride into shot waving his riding crop: “Stop it! Stop it! This is silly…”

Remember that Fleming's first Bond novel opened with the sentence: "The scent and smoke and sweat of a casino are nauseating at three in the morning." If the producers had balls and really wanted to inject some life into the whole franchise, they would put James Bond back in the 1940s, where he belongs.

I want to see a real Cold War Bond, who fights shady Russian spies while Senator Joseph McCarthy rails on black-and-white television. A Bond who has a martini for breakfast, who is getting closer to the wrong side of forty. A slightly seedy Bond, who wakes up smelling bad, still in his crumpled tuxedo. A Bond who drops into MI6 headquarters for a briefing to find ageing military men lounging around on leather sofas in clouds of cigarette smoke and alluring secretaries behind big wooden desks with filing cabinets and pencil sharpeners. A Bond with a sense of cruelty around the eyes, capable of shooting a double agent without a hint of regret.

Think of the possibilities! We could still have the silly gadgets, but they would be elaborate mechanical listening devices that fit behind the face of a stylish vintage airman’s watch. Bring back the Walther PPK and code-breaking, shots of Stalin on the television, spies searching grimy hotel rooms for mechanical bugs, trading ration vouchers for information. James Bond in the dowdy world, when people still dressed for dinner. Bond in Graham Greene’s post-war Berlin, crossing over into the Russian zone like a character in The Third Man.

Someone, indeed, like this fellow:

Jason Isaacs, the perfect James Bond?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

No, the cold war ain't what it used to be ...


- Frank Kozik