007 and the Cold War
To the Editor:
Richard Grenier’s pompous, humorless, inaccurate article “Updating James Bond” [June], uses the word “idiotic” to describe the plot of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. That adjective more aptly reflects his account of it, which bears no resemblance to the plots of either Fleming’s novel or my screenplay. In both the book and the movie Bond slept with two, not ten girls in an effort to secure information about the villain’s projected caper to destroy the world’s food supply unless he was granted a title and immunity from past crimes. Bond was certainly not inoculated with an infectious virus to pass on to his sexual conquests. Post-hypnotically programmed by the villain, these women were to use simple atomizers filled with various micro-biologic parasites. Did Mr. Grenier ever read the book or see the film? He calls it a failure despite the fact that it grossed $32 million worldwide, a figure seldom attained by a motion picture at that time. As for critical reaction to the film, Charles Champlin, the astute Los Angeles Times reviewer, called it “by a long shot the very best of the Bonds.”
So much for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. As the writer or co-writer of nine “007” screenplays, including the first four and about thirty-five other motion pictures and numerous stage plays, I know that talking back to an important critic is a strictly no-win situation. . . . But in this instance Mr. Grenier has made so many misstatements of fact I feel I must risk it.
Mr. Grenier has every right to feel the Bond movies have been soft on détente. I assume that is the thrust of his article (if it has one). However I want to set the film record straight.
Dr. No was equally resentful of the United States and Russia for failing to appreciate his genius. Mr. Grenier’s mention of Cuba’s proximity to Crab Key island as somehow being significant in this film is very far-fetched. The only evil Russian involved in From Russia With Love was the defector Rosa Klebb. Tatiana was not actually a KGB disinformation agent, as Mr. Grenier states, but a gullible girl in love with the idea of James Bond. Klebb manipulated her, and other Russians, for SPECTRE, not SMERSH. The murderous Red Grant is not revealed to be a Russian, certainly not in the screenplay. Goldfinger’s main purpose in radiating the gold of Fort Knox (an additional wrinkle added in the film) was to increase the value of his own gold holdings. He needed a “particularly dirty bomb” so he got it from the Red Chinese, who, before Nixon’s visit, wanted financial panic in the West. A quid pro quo arrangement. In Thunderball, Mr. Grenier makes much of Bond’s sidekick, Felix Leiter of the CIA. But who else in the United States should Bond work with while on a mission? Perry Mason? And U.S. “Aquaparatroops (whatever they are)” constitute an actual specially trained frogman-paratrooper unit stationed at that time in Orlando, Florida.
The Spy Who Loved Me incurs Mr. Grenier’s displeasure because of Bond’s relationship with a beautiful Russian agent. He thinks the film must have caused Fleming to roll over in his grave because Fleming was unaffectedly anti-Soviet. Mr. Grenier should read one of Fleming’s short stories, “The Living Daylights,” in which Bond finds himself pitted against another crack marksman, another lovely Russian agent of breathtaking proportions. Clearly Fleming recognized that Bond was susceptible to them whatever the nationality of the female so alluringly endowed.
What puzzles me most about Mr. Grenier is that he takes the Bond films much too seriously. They are essentially escapist adventure comedies designed for thrills and laughs. He also seems to forget that détente was and to some extent still is the policy of many Western governments. What is Mr. Grenier’s alternative? The atomic destruction of Russia? If it is, he has surpassed even the wildest, most maniacal dreams of all the evil Fleming villains put together. I am now back to the use of the word “idiotic.”
Pacific Palisades, California
Richard Grenier writes:
Richard Maibaum causes me some embarrassment. Here I affirm to all and sundry that the motion pictures are the “class act” of the dramatic arts, and he writes a letter of such blazing incoherence as to cast the deepest suspicion on my thesis. He says that I “seem to forget” that détente was the policy of many Western governments, when a main point of my piece was just how faithfully the James Bond series has followed the shifts of public mood in the West regarding the Soviet Union, particularly during détente. He fights me grimly on a series of trivial points which in no way alter the fundamental burden of my article. And he announces that what puzzles him most about me is that I take the Bond films “much too seriously,” while plainly acknowledging that both he and the series have enthusiastically espoused the détente policy, thereby deftly kicking the ball through his own goal and demonstrating that beneath all the “thrills” and “laughs” his films contain serious ideas after all.
I am absolutely appalled, I must add, that Mr. Maibaum should think the only alternative to détente is the “atomic destruction of Russia,” and fear that in this matter, as perhaps in others, he is more ignorant of public affairs than the average citizen of this country. This is hardly the place to begin Mr. Maibaum’s education in world events, but I would suggest that, if interested, he might make some effort to find out who first introduced this curious French word détente into our lexicon, who later supported détente as policy, and what these gentlemen now think of it: whether it succeeded, in short, or failed. He has the members of at least three earlier administrations to choose from. As for the alternative to détente, does Mr. Maibaum feel that the overwhelming majorities of both houses of Congress that recently approved the new defense budget were voting for the atomic destruction of Russia? If so, he really is a slow learner.
Regarding the inaccuracies in my article: In From Russia With Love, Mr. Maibaum insists, Tatiana was a “gullible girl in love with the idea of James Bond.” He might be interested to learn that in the official plot synopsis of the film she is identified as a false defector and a “willing tool of her government (the USSR).” Mr. Maibaum maintains that in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service James Bond slept with only two, not ten girls. This is all somewhat ridiculous, but since Mr. Maibaum forces me, the official plot synopsis reads: Bond “is required in the line of duty to spend one night with each of the ten international beauties Blofeld has assembled. Through them he means to send a virus back to their homelands to destroy all vegetable life!” And so on. Mr. Maibaum cannot seriously think it much damages my analysis that I omitted his “simple atomizers filled with various micro-biologic parasites.” Or with these micro-biologic parasites, is he nailing his intellectual colors to the mast? Perhaps they are intended to prove to the world that his plot is not idiotic. If On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was such a great success, why were the producers so desperately anxious to dump its star, poor George Lazenby, and to offer such huge financial incentives to win back Sean Connery? But it would be tedious to rebut all of Mr. Maibaum’s points, every one of which, in view of the thrust of my article, is either insignificant, incoherent, or false.
And I am still trying to understand how James Bond’s susceptibility to beauties of “breathtaking proportions” and “alluringly endowed” females of whatever nationality, even Russian, can be construed by Mr. Maibaum as validating a sense of such friendship and unity of purpose with the Soviet Union as to bring Bond to ally himself with the KGB, no matter how alluringly its officers are endowed.
In sum, there is not a word in Mr. Maibaum’s letter which refutes my central point that the James Bond series—developed from the work of Ian Fleming, a true monument of anti-Communism—“can have had few equals in obliterating from the popular culture the idea that our society might actually have a powerful and dangerous adversary.” His letter itself, of course, is passably good evidence of the quality of mind of those responsible for this achievement.
Now that I am acquainted with Mr. Maibaum’s credo—that the only alternative to détente is nuclear war—I can only marvel, incidentally, at his latest offering, which I had not yet seen when I wrote my article.
For Your Eyes Only is crawling with murderous Cuban and East German hit men. In it the KGB is extremely eager to procure a device that can destroy Britain in a nuclear holocaust. Does Mr. Maibaum know what he has written? Is this the wonderful détente he’s defending? Does he have his head screwed on right? In the movie’s penultimate scene, when James Bond has foiled the chief of the KGB and prevented the lethal device from falling into his hands, Bond says with a sardonic smile, “It’s détente, comrade. I don’t have it. You don’t have it.” If this remark means anything at all it means that the Soviet Union must not, under cover of détente, seek military dominance over the West. That is our meaning of détente. If it is not the Soviet Union’s, then all bets are off. This is a very popular and widespread view these days, as some part of Mr. Maibaum’s mind must realize, which is why he wrote it into his movie. It is obvious from his letter that he did this in a spirit of simple opportunism. His heart, it would appear, was not in it.