Tuesday, October 23, 2012

"They [women] Love to be Taken."

Dealing with Ian Fleming's novel The Spy Who Loved Me is one of those important times that a working knowledge of pop culture trivia pays off. If you were to pick up this book expecting a wildly exciting opening down a ski slope that was going to lead to a massive battle aboard an underwater superstructure...boy, would you be in for a surprise.

The tenth Bond movie (and the third for Roger Moore) took only its title from the tenth Bond novel.

Critics and fans alike were quite unhappy with how the book came out, a decade and and a half before the movie hit the theaters. It was quite a departure from the usual Bond novel.  In the book, Vivienne Michel, a young Canadian woman, recounts a short history of her youth: growing up in Canada, her first affair with a boy while at finishing school in England, her failed love affair with a German newsman, and the getaway trip she took that led her to a cabin in the American Adirondacks.
This is not the poster of the story described above.
Being in a remote mountain setting might be as close to the movie as the book gets, as the opening has Roger fleeing a cabin on a crazy ski chase.

The cabins are being closed at the end of vacation season, and Vivienne, who had hired on as the receptionist has been left behind to help the owner close up. It's at this point that two hoods show up, and Vivienne does her damnedest to fend them off.  Then, there's a knock at the door.

Two thirds of the way through we finally see 007.  And I'll leave the plot summary there.

In some ways, I like to imagine a Bond or any action movie within which we don't meet the protagonist until the last half hour of the movie.  Granted some other character usually picks up the slack. Obviously, in this case, it's Vivienne, not Bond, whose point of view we're adopting.  But that's not my point, I'm saying things happen and continue to happen for an hour, and then Bond or John McClane or Indiana Jones shows up. I suppose The Good, The Bad and The Ugly sort of comes close, although again Tuco ultimately is the protagonist, but it is interesting how long Eastwood is left out of the action.

Ringo's wife Barbara Bach did not play Viv...but might as well have.
Anyhow. I was surprised at Fleming's choice to adopt a woman's perspective. The writing's not bad although many of the sentiments are cliché. It's not to say that no woman ever had an experience like this, but I feel as though I've heard this sort of scenario before from a number of male authors.  As for the more action end of the plot, it's fairly by the numbers.  In some ways, though you have to admire his decision to experiment this late into a popular game, Fleming handicaps himself by his choice of having Vivienne tell the tale. For one: We know James Bond is not going to die. No one needs the luxury of hindsight for that. And two: The damsel in distress is telling the story, and though she does an admirable job of fending for herself, we know James Bond is not going to let her die.

Now having written out these thoughts, it's only just occurred to me that years and years of cabin-in-the-woods horror movies are also mirrored in this plot long before there was a Camp Crystal Lake.  But while the idea of some psycho or family of cannibals hidden in some remote location seems par the course, it's actually more inventive that the world's top special agent has to fend off a couple of dimestore hoods on an insurance job in the woods in the middle of nowhere. It's one of the most extreme cases of Plot Against Type, I've ever seen.

Kinda like when they don't have a big enough budget on a sci-fi flick, so the robots/aliens/people from the future spend most of their time on Earth at the present time.
"Sorry Rog...we couldn't afford the underwater Lotus. How about a '71 Volvo wagon?
In all, an enjoyable read, if only for a change of pace from the other Bond novels I've read. But how could it not fail at least a tiny bit when in your heart, you're just waiting for Richard Kiel to show up as the beloved Jaws.

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