Havoc!

Author: James Dark
Publisher: Horwitz
Published: 1962

Recently I have looked at a few Mark Hood spy thrillers, written by James Dark – namely Come Die With Me and the Throne of Satan. Prior to them however, I looked at The Invisibles, which is also a Mark Hood spy thriller, but as it was an Australian edition, the author was credited as J.E. MacDonnell. As an Australian, it fascinated me that their was international spy fiction being written in Australia during the 1960s. I was curious to find out more, which I must admit I found difficult. J.E. MacDonnell also wrote a large amount of popular naval fiction, and these books were easy to find, however it would appear that his spy fiction was as not as well received and is very hard to find.

Thankfully, when I posted my review of The Invisibles, readers commented on the Hood books and mentioned that they had been published in America under the pen name James Dark. And after a bit of searching on the net, I have located a few American editions of the Hood novels. From these, I wrote the reviews I mentioned above (Come Die With Me and Throne of Satan).

What I found confusing is that when I was researching Hood by J.E. MacDonnell – while there were a few discrepancies across the websites I visited, mainly due to foreign titles – was how many books were in the series. One of the most informative websites on J.E. MacDonnell, Collecting Books and Magazines (it’s towards the bottom of the page) – suggests that there are 13 novels in the series.

However, the website, Fantastic Fiction, which looks at author James Dark rather than J.E. MacDonnell, suggests that there are 17 novels in the Mark Hood series.

Once again, some of the titles listed were duplications of the same novel, only published under different titles – but still, there were a few that were new to me, and didn’t appear in any of J.E. MacDonnell’s biographies. That made me think, was there more than one James Dark?

As it happens, James Dark was a house name for several authors at Australian publisher, Horwitz Publications. It also seems that the ‘Dark’ name was applied to novels of all genres. One of the most informative articles I have been able to find, and it shed much light on the mystery of James Dark was written by Steve Paulsen, and appears on the Australian Horror Writer’s Association website. Entitled, Pulp Fiction in Oz, Paulsen’s article is worth reading in it’s entirety, but for those who want to cut to the chase, the information about James Dark is down thirteen paragraphs from the top.

ImPact - the first Elliot Carr adventure

Taking Steve Paulsen at his word (as he seems much better informed than me) – then the James Dark credited for writing Havoc!, is James Workman. And Havoc! is World trouble-shooter, Elliot Carr’s second great story of espionage… inside on the second page, it says that also by the same author is a book called Impact, and once again it would appear to have been written by Workman.

While on the topic of James Dark – although I do not have a copy of the book – the next bit of wild speculation on my behalf is that the novel Spy From the Grave which was published in 1964 (according to the Fantastic Fiction site), is not a Mark hood novel. Come Die With Me, which was published in 1965, is clearly the first Mark Hood novel. The setup, the introduction to Intertrust (the organisation Hood works for) all suggest it is the first novel in the series. Therefore, (assuming that the publication date isn’t wrong) then Spy From the Grave predates the Mark Hood series, and may possibly be an Elliot Carr novel. Or more likely, it could simply be another standalone spy novel, which seems logical as Paulsen suggests, that this sixth, James Dark novel, was written by another author, Richard Wilkes-Hunter. If you have read Spy From the Grave or have any information about it, or James Dark, please feel free to comment (or contact me off air, via email if you wish).

But now, after all that meandering investigative journalism, you’re probably wondering how Havoc! stacks up as a spy novel. As I mentioned briefly, Havoc! is the sequel to the novel Impact, and for those who like their silly spy acronyms, how’s this?  The hero of these stories, Elliot Carr is a chief operative for the International and Metropolitan Police Air Control – or if you prefer IMPACt (Impact being the title of the first novel). How Carr and IMPACt, an organisation geared to protecting airlines around the world, get involved in this multi-threaded espionage plot, is contrived beyond belief, but it is a fun, fast paced ride.

As the story begins, the world’s first moon rocket is preparing to be launched from the Kooralinga Rocket Range in Australia (remember this was written in 1962 – predating the Apollo moon launches). Upon launch, the rocket goes haywire and crashes to the ground. As an adjunct here, while Kooralinga appears to be a fictitious place name (or at least used fictitiously in this instance), it echoes Maralinga, which is the site of the UK nuclear tests carried out in South Australia in the 1950s. Was the author suggesting that the rocket was nuclear powered?

Meanwhile Barnstable Klinger, a specialist assassin, hired by the Chinese is sent to Hong Kong to investigate eccentric scientist Cyrus C. Canning who has been doing microwave research. Klinger is to steal Canning’s research; failing that he is to kill everybody involved in the project. Before Klinger can achieve his objective, Canning flees to Sydney (but nobody knows this). Upset at his disappearance, Canning’s wife and step sister track him to the airport. Once they find out where he has gone, Klinger steps in and kills Canning’s step sister, Martha– she also has knowledge of Canning’s research.

Terrifying Tales - by James Dark (James Workman?)

As she was killed at an airport, this is where IMPACt are called in, and Elliot Carr decides to oversee the investigation personally. Somehow, Carr suspects that not only is Martha’s death connected with Canning’s research, he also believes it ties in with the sabotage of the moon rocket in Australia. But rather than start in Hong Kong (or head to Australia – which he does later), Carr starts in England, interviewing Sir John Calidcroft, who is one of the world’s leading scientists. Carr hopes he can shed some light on Canning’s research.

If the story was that straight forward, it wouldn’t be much of a spy novel would it? To make things more complicated, there is also a person going by the noms de guerre, The Man From Mannheim, who has sent letters to three of the four nuclear powers suggesting that if they don’t start dismantling their nuclear stockpiles, he will do it for them using explosive means. As proof of his intentions and capabilities, ‘Mannheim’ explodes some small nuclear stockpiles in each country as an example.

I must say, that I was surprised that such a strong anti-nuclear story was written in the early 1960s. I have always thought that nuclear disarmament and ‘ban the bomb’ protesting was a part of the late ’60s –  and much of that was predominantly to do with the Vietnam War. Clearly that is not the case. This novel is purely a Cold War novel, and predates Vietnam. Havoc! was published in 1962, the same year as the Cuban Missile Crisis, which is generally regarded as the closest the world has come to nuclear conflict. Whether that had an influence on this story is anybody’s guess. Or maybe the author’s anti-nuclear stance is a reaction to the British nuclear tests at Maralinga, which occurred between 1955 and 1963?

Regardless of the author’s viewpoint, what is unusual, is seeing this stance written about in a piece of early-sixties Australian genre fiction, especially considering Australia’s political climate at the time. The incumbent Prime Minister was Sir Robert Menzies who had continued to remain in power after winning an un-winnable election in the wake of the Petrov Affair in 1954. At the time of Havoc!, Menzies was able to exploit Labor’s divisions over the Cold War and the American alliance, and win the 1963 election, with an increased majority. Put simply, most of the Australian populace at that time, were behind the Government, were anti-communist and in favour of a nuclear deterrent (that is not to suggest that wanting Nuclear disarmament makes you a communist!). Of course this is a broad generalisation, but this book would appear to go against the grain of mainstream thinking in Australia – at that time.

But back to the story. Elliot Carr does not only have to contend with American, British, Russian and Chinese intelligence agencies trying to track down Canning, but also thrown in the mix, is a mysterious organisation called ‘Circle of Three’, who appear to be manipulating events in the background. Then there’s a Russian splinter group, known as the ‘Clinic’, run be the evil Miss Cotter – a nurse who specialises in torture.

Havoc! at only 130 pages, may seem like a slight book – and I guess it is – but it does in fact pack quite a bit of plot, a few twists and turns and multiple storythreads into its page count. As I have already sugested, this is the second, Elliot Carr adventure, and on the strength of it, I would happily read the first. However, possibly more tantalising, is the fact, that at the end of the book it is set up for another Carr adventure. I cannot be sure that any more Carr books were written, but as the history of Australian pulp fiction is currently so poorly recorded, there is no reason to assume that there weren’t any.

Australia pulp fiction is a bit of an enigma at the moment, and finding out the truth is getting more difficult with each successive generation. Horwitz doesn’t really exist anymore. During the 1980s it started to focus more on magazines than publishing books (primarily magazines like Playboy). Eventually the company got gobbled up by larger media groups, and now Horwitz and all its imprints (such as its Adult imprint, Scripts, which published Avakoum Zahov vs 07) are quickly fading from memory. I know we can’t all live in the past, but I suggest that ignoring Australia’s publishing heritage strips away a layer of our identity. Sure many of these books were sexist, racist, and in this day and age, verging on litigious, but they are a reflection of our society, good, bad or indifferent in days gone by. They are a signpost of who we were then, and juxtaposed against current fiction, can suggest where we are going.

Havoc!

Twice Upon a Time

Artist: Siouxsie & the Banshees
Label: Wonderland
Release Year:
1992

I have a strange ‘love / hate’ relationship with Siouxsie and the Banshees. Actually ‘hate’ is too strong a word. It’s more of a ‘love / oooh dear!’ relationship. I made a piss-poor goth in the mid eighties. I guess my heart wasn’t really into being miserable. But Siouxsie had such a unique and hypnotic voice I kept getting drawn back. When I heard the song Cities in Dust off the Tinderbox album, I thought it was one of the most intoxicating collections of sounds I had ever heard, melded into one song. But generally my incursions into Banshees territory were a mixture of frustration and unease.

Years later, in 1992, Siouxsie toured Australia, playing at the Metro Nightclub in Melbourne (the venue is now known as The Palace). I am not really sure why I wanted to go, but I did. And I am truly glad that I did. I think at that brief moment of time, where my head was musically, and where the Siouxsie and the Banshees were musically, coincided. If you’ll forgive the gushing hyperbole, it was one of the most amazing concerts I have ever been to (look it was almost twenty years ago and I am still talking about it – it must have been good!)

Tinderbox
Tinderbox

I stood in the one spot, transfixed for the whole evening. I was so mesmerizing I forgot to drink. Back in those days, and at the age I was, it was the riggeur de jour to get totally trashed at any concert. But my mind was else where – it was on stage – listening to these beautiful, worldly, ethereal sounds.

The album that the tour was promoting – if my memory serves me right – was Twice Upon a Time, which is a compilation album – a greatest hits if you will. In fact it was the second greatest hits package that the Banshees had put out, as Once Upon a Time had been released several years previously. In keeping, the concert tour was a presentation of this second era of Banshee hits.

With a band like Siouxsie and the Banshees, the words ‘greatest hits’ present a strange conundrum. In Australia, they certainly didn’t get much air play on radio – maybe the community radio stations and Triple J – but nothing on a rotation basis. Their songs didn’t chart either (maybe Face to Face off the Batman Returns soundtrack edged into the top 40, but I doubt it). The Banshees’ most commercial (for that read ‘radio friendly) fodder is probably their cover versions of other material, such as The Beatles, Dear Prudence, Dylan’s This Wheel’s on Fire, and Iggy Pop’s The Passenger. I think somewhere along the way they also covered The Door’s You’re Lost Little Girl (I can’t be sure on that, I don’t have a copy). Personally, I think that their covers are their weakest numbers – and they never got any air play either). So, in this instance, when I say ‘greatest hits’, it means the singles released by the band between 1982 and 1992.

So if the concert performance was the main course, then the CD, Twice Upon a Time was the doggy bag – the take home pack. But the songs are certainly not reheated leftovers. The CD opens with the quasi orchestral sounds on Fireworks, then moves through to the pounding raw drum beat in Slowdive. This is followed up by the appropriately languid Melt, moving through to their swirling psychedelic version of Dear Prudence. Along the way there’s the military staccato drum coupled with a sharp violin riff on Overground; Cities in Dust, which sound like synth pop banging on sheet metal; Candyman’s guitar pop sound; the bouncing brass and accordion sound on Peek-a-boo. Appropriately, on the CD is a live version of The Last Beat of My Heart (recorded in Seattle at Lollapallooza in 1991), the song being an absolute show-stopper. The album rides out with Siouxsie and the Banshees experimenting with temple dancing and techno dance beats. As you can see, with the myriad of musical styles dished up, they are a band that was hard to categorize. And one that never stood still for long.

As much as I loved the concert and loved this album, it is probably right that after it, Siouxsie and I should have parted ways. If she had put out more music that pandered to my particular musical tastes and quirks, that would have indicated that she and the band were stagnating and repeating themselves. By trying new things, the kept themselves relevant and kept the music fresh.

That’s what I meant by the love / hate relationship. I love Siouxsie and the Banshees, but I can’t enjoy all their music. But that’s okay. That’s what’s great about them. They went here, there and everywhere and gave the world a lot of music – and that has to be a good thing.

Twice Upon a Time

The Spy With the Blue Kazoo

Author: Dagmar
Publisher: Lancer
Release Year: 1967

The Spy With the Blue Kazoo is more silly swingin’ sixties style smut from Lancer Books – the fine people who brought the world The Man From ORGY. The title says it all really. Well, maybe it isn’t quite as smutty as some of Lancer’s other publications, and that is probably because it was written by Dagmar.

I must admit I didn’t know who Dagmar, the author, was (although it wouldn’t surprise me if it was ghost written – Lou Cameron (?)) – so I had to do a little bit of research. My first port of call was that indispensable font of all knowledge Wikipedia , which informed me that:

Dagmar (November 29, 1921 – October 9, 2001) was an American actress, model and television personality of the 1950s. As a statuesque, busty blonde, she became the first major female star of television, receiving much press coverage during that decade.

Also

Dagmar became one of the leading personalities of early 1950s live television, doing sketch comedy on Milton Berle’s Texaco Star Theater, The Bob Hope Show and other shows. On June 17, 1951, she appeared on the Colgate Comedy Hour with host Eddie Cantor and guests Milton Berle, Phil Foster and Jack Leonard. In 1951, she made a TV guest appearance with Frank Sinatra, which prompted Columbia Records producer Mitch Miller to record a novelty duet with Frank and Dagmar, “Mama Will Bark”. That same year, she was featured in a Life cover story with Alfred Eisenstaedt’s photo of her on the July 16, 1951 issue. For the interior photo essay, Life photographers followed her to rehearsals and accompanied her on a vacation back to her home town in West Virginia.

The Spy With the Blue Kazoo concerns a female super spy (and musical entertainer) named Regina, known as the Blue Queen. Her assistant is a fellow named Randy Kidd. Regina is a freelance agent, who in the past, has mysteriously just happened to be in the world’s hot spots when a major incident has gone down. Coincidence? Not likely. Kidd is ex-army. In fact he is ex-everything – CIA, Police Force etc. He has worked for all sorts of law-enforcement agencies but keeps losing his job after sleeping with his superiors wives.

As the story begins, Kidd is being interrogated by the police after a night of passion. A  girl has committed suicide by hurling herself from Kidd’s seventh floor hotel window, onto a wrought iron fence below. Making matters worse, the girl was actually a French Secret agent, Marie Arnould,

It seems the girl was coerced into doing this by an evil genius known as Dr. Fang. Regina and Kidd were not working on an assignment to bring Dr. Fang in, but it appears that Dr. Fang is not aware of this, and is now trying to set Kidd up on a trumped up murder charge.

The story then moves to central America, and to Los Perros, which is a veritable ‘nest of spies’. Regina and Randy don’t have to do much investigating, as all sorts of thugs, and secret agents come after them from all sides – Russian, Chinese and even American. Despite being a spy story, the story plays out like an old-time, wise cracking detective novel, with each new character introduced, either coming to a strange end, or being used for a few quick laughs.

There is a twist toward the end as our dynamic duo finally track down the arch-fiend Dr. Fang, but really it is so obvious that if you don’t see it coming then you are not really paying attention.

As the title, and the celebrity author would indicate, this is a novelty book – and to be truthful, not a very good one. The pacing is patchy with odious passages of dialogue, readers are expected to find funny. Maybe forty years ago, it was funny. I understand and appreciate how times have changed, and humour has changed with it. I guess humour is subjective, and you have to make up your own mind. Here’s a brief sample of the hijinx in The Spy With the Blue Kazoo.

From page 63:

“…How are you coming with that drink, Randy darling?”

“Found the gin and the tonic,” he answered. “Got any ice?”

“Should be some in the fridge.”

Randy went over to the small refrigerator, opened it, and said a most unprintable word.

Regina looked up and said, “Randy! That was hardly called for -” And then the Blue Queen saw what was in the refrigerator and added a few unprintable thoughts of her own.

Seated in a fetal position, starring out at them glassily from the interior of the otherwise empty refrigerator, was the man that Randy had shot with the blue kazoo. Hennesy was very pale, very dead, and, for some reason, grinning from ear to ear!

If that passage tickled your funny bone, then maybe The Spy With the Blue Kazoo may be the book for you. I am afraid it seemed rather forced to me, and as such, even as a light piece of throwaway smut, I couldn’t really recommend this book to you.

And to finish – a SPOILER for those who are curious and just HAVE to know what the blue kazoo is. Despite any suggested innuendo that may suggest there are spies running around in this story with blue penises, the blue kazoo is actually… well, it is a blue kazoo – the annoying musical instrument. However these kazoos have been modified to fire poison darts, which cause the target to engage in aberrant, and ultimately fatal, sexual behaviour.

The Spy With the Blue Kazoo

The Money Explosion

Author: Talmage Powell
Publisher: Whitman
Release Year: 1970

The Money Explosion is a children’s tie-in novel for the Mission: Impossible television series. Those familiar with the series will be familiar with the miraculous deeds that the IMF have performed in the past. Here they are explained as such:

From page 16.

But often the sudden surprises that boded well for the forces of freedom and democracy were neither unexplicable nor happy strokes of luck. Often these were indications that Jim’s Impossible Missions Force had been on the job. IMF went in where the knots were too tangled for any other agency or group to untie. IMF went in unseen, without official existence, and came out without plaudits – but with the knowledge of a worthwhile job well done.

The story opens in Tampa, Florida, in the Latin Quarter. Jim Phelps, in a rented car, pulls up and makes his way to a record store, and requests a tape from the store attendant. The attendant hands Phelps the recording, and Phelps takes in back to his car to listen to the tape/cartridge in private. The mission concerns the tiny Carribean island of Esperanza, which has suffered at the hands of tyrannical rulers for centuries. But their new President, Petro Martinez is a beacon of light and hope for the future. But the leader of the opposition, Diego Ochoa has a dastardly plan to upset the economy of the struggling nation. And through his manufactured economic crisis, he plans to seize power.

Ochoa’s plan concern’s a young intelligence officer named Alexie Darstov, who works for an un-named military power that is in direct opposition to America (Russia). Darstov has overseen the printing of millions of counterfeit pestas (Esperanza’s currency) which he plans to flood the country – literally a ‘money explosion’.

Jim’s mission, should he chose to accept it, is to stop the Ochoa – Darstov plan. To do this he needs a highly skilled team of operatives. These include Willy Armitage, Barney Collier, The Great Paris and Tracey Hale.

The Mission: Impossible television series was always beautifully written and edited. Each episode presented the viewer with a snippet of the briefing – not all of it. Just enough to make the viewer believe they knew what was going to happen. Then as the plot unfolded, the story would twist into another direction. Unfortunately, chopping up a story into deceptively small pieces is a lot harder to do in a novel. It would read rather clumsy to have the start of the briefing, and then the end, leaving out the middle. Editing in a television series makes the show seem pacey, however in a book, large missing segments can seem lazy or confusing, even if the scenes are mundane. A certain amount of exposition is required, and that what The Money Explosion does – serve up that extra descriptive content. Which in some ways, ruins the magic of Mission Impossible…so much more of the mission is laid out at the beginning. The downside of this is at the beginning the story is overloaded with setup and very little action. To illustrate the point, the IMF team only move off from their briefing on page 44 – which is almost a quarter of the way through the book.

To the novel’s credit (and author Talmage Powell), the story still manages to serve up one or two twists. While I can say I enjoyed The Money Explosion, rather than being a great book, it instead highlights the strengths of the television show and how the formula is very hard to transfer to a linear novel format – keeping the same style and pace intact.

The Money Explosion

The Implosion Effect

Author: Gary Paulsen
Publisher: Major Books
Published: 1976

Time for a little more ‘volcano’ action, however this time the villains are not housed in a hollowed out volcano. Instead, the crater of a dormant volcano is used to create a giant, illegal satellite tracking dish. But I am getting ahead of myself.

The Implosion Effect is a trashy piece of pulp fiction from the mid seventies, and although many tropes that you’d find in spy fiction are present, the book barely qualifies as a spy novel until the last twenty-five pages.

As the story begins, Jason Theiss has been going through a patch of bad luck. First, a divorce from his wife, then he lost his job. Actually losing his job was a side effect of the divorce. After losing his wife, he hit the bottle, and his employer gave him an ultimatum – clean up your act or lose your job. Theiss chose the bottle, and consequently, for the last eights weeks has been unemployed.

Previously he had been employed as an engineer at a Lockheed satellite tracking station – but that’s all history now.

One evening, while getting drunk and maudlin on the balcony of his Malibu beach house (life’s tough for unemployed alcoholics), a boat makes anchor in front of his house. Two men get in a dinghy and row to shore. One of the men approaches Theiss and produces a gun, and demands that he accompany them.

Theiss reluctantly obeys and goes with the men to the boat. The two goons who have abducted Theiss are just lackeys who have been paid to retrieve Theiss and bring him before a man named Alan Gunderson. Off the bat, Gunderson gives Theiss one-hundred-thousand dollars, and explains that he represents a consortium that want to build a secret tracking station to monitor the satellites orbiting overhead. With the information that is gleaned, the consortium hope to be able to make a killing at the stock market. For another four-hundred-thousand dollars, as payment, they wish to hire Theiss to build them their tracking station.

Theiss agrees. The transmitter is to be built on a small island in the Pacific, which happens to be an extinct volcano. The crater of the volcano, once covered in tin foil, is to be used as ta fixed tracking dish. Not very high-tech, but effective.

To help with the project, Theiss is assigned four technicians, all specialists in their field, but when a body washes up on shore (with a bullet hole in the head), it appears that someone working on the project is a killer.

There is a little bit of ‘dodgy logic’ to the story. When the first dead body (the first of many) turns up, Theiss should have just got off the island and left the project. I appreciate that half a million dollars is a lot of money, but what’s the good of all that money if you’re not alive to spend it.

The Implosion Effect is a fairly decent – if in no way remarkable – pulp fiction spy novel. It is written in ‘first person’ with wise cracks coming thick and fast. The story is fast paced, and has an exciting potboiler ending – although no where near as vigorous and exciting as the cover art would have you believe. The Implosion Effect would never win any literary awards, but it is a pleasant enough diversion for a few hours.

The Implosion Effect

The Guns of the Magnificent Seven (1969)

Country: United States
Director: Paul Wendkos
Starring: George Kennedy, Monte Markham, James Whitmore, Reni Santoni, Bernie Casey, Joe Don Baker, Michael Ansara, Fernando Rey
Music: Elmer Bernstein

The Guns of the Magnificent Seven is the third movie in the four film series. As with most film series, each additional entry diminishes in quality from the first film. The big difference with Guns, is that George Kennedy plays the role of Chris, taking over from Yul Brynner. I like Kennedy as an actor, and his performance in this film is perfectly acceptable, however his more open style seems at odds with the character – especially when compared with Brynner’s depiction which is cold, clinical and clipped. Chris is a gun for hire – and although he has feelings and morals, he is not one to show them outwardly. Kennedy’s Chris wears his heart on his sleeve. He almost seems the type to apologize after shooting a man who was trying to kill him. This is kind of strange, as Kennedy in other films, such as Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, showed he could play a ruthless cold bastard rather well.

Possibly in an effort to shift this feeling of softness, one of the new ‘Seven’, Levi Morgan, is played by James Whitmore. Whitmore is definitely the old, cuddly father figure, even to the point where one of the children in the film, asks him to be his father until his real father turns up. Morgan, the cold blooded killer, says yes. So this entry for the seven is considerably softer than the other entries.

The story begins with Quintero (Fernando Rey), a revered political leader who is trying to inspire the Mexican farmers to rise up against the corrupt President, being captured by a sadistic Colonel in the Mexican army. Colonel Diego is played by one on the screens great villains, Michael Ansara. In the 1970s, Ansara, along with Henry Silva and John Saxon, had a monopoly on villain roles. Ansara appeared in everything, such as Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, ChiPs, Vega$, The Rockford Files, Kojak, Mission Impossible, Hawaii Five O, The Mod Squad, The Streets of San Francisco, The Man From UNCLE, The Girl From UNCLE … and many more, too numerous to mention here.

Of course once Quintero is captured, one of the would-be-revolutionaries, Max (Reni Santoni) obtains some money from a bandit chieftain and rides off to find Chris (Kennedy) whose deeds have spread throughout Mexico. Max finds Chris and outlines the job, which is to break into Diego’s prison and rescue Quintero. Chris agrees and goes about recruit a band of men to go on the mission.

The new ‘Seven’ consist of Chris – Morgan, the knife thrower – Cassie (Bernie Casey), the muscle bound negro who is an expert with dynamite – Slater (Joe Don Baker), a one armed sharp shooter – Keno (Monty Markhan), a horse thief – P.J. (Scott Thomas), a tuberculosis riddled gunman on his last legs. And rounding out the ‘Seven’ is Max, who wishes to be trained as a gunman.

Of course, Elmer Bernstein’s score is rousing as always, rehashing the themes and musical cues from the previous films. It sounds like I am complaining – but I wouldn’t have the music any other way. When I watch a Magnificent Seven film, I want the theme up front and in my face (or should that be ears?) If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

The shootouts and action scenes are all competently handled, but there is not much that is new here beyond the cast. Unless you are interested in the cast – any young Joe Don Bakerologists out there? – then the film does little to add to the mythos of The Magnificent Seven.

The Guns of the Magnificent Seven (1969)

Bond 23

After an incredibly torturous delay, last week came the announcement that the next James Bond film, which has no title at this stage – and is known only as Bond 23, is finally going into production and Sam Mendes is going to direct.

Sam Mendes - director of Bond 23

With that news it is time for the Bond community to rise, and start talking about their hopes and fears for the next Bond film. Although I enjoyed the last film, Quantum of Solace, like many other Bond fans, I thought it was a bit of a disappointment after Casino Royale. After a four year hiatus, not only I, but Bond fans in general expect a quality product, and not something that is banged out to meet the 2012 deadline. 2012 is an auspicious year for the Bond franchise as it is the fiftieth anniversary on Dr. No, the first  Bond film (the Casino Royale TV production not being a part of the official cannon). But I remember the muddle that was Die Another Day – a film written to celebrate the fortieth anniversary of Bond. Die Another Day was not only Pierce Brosnan’s worst outing as James Bond, the film is one of the weakest in the series as a whole. A poor film can certainly take the gloss off any celebration.

As I not adverse to gibbering on about James Bond, I thought I’d share some of my thoughts and wishes for this next Bond film. Firstly, let me say that many of the ideas below are not originally mine. I surf the net and read what others have to say, and I have taken on board the ideas that resonate most strongly with me. Some of the ideas below were first mooted on the Double-O Section, Mister 8 and HMSS Weblog sites.You may have other ideas or thoughts on where the next film should go, which are equally valid. Feel free to share them.

Let’s start at the beginning:

The Title

Casino Royale - A Whisper of Love, A Whisper of Hate

What should Bond 23 be called. Practically all the Ian Fleming book and short story titles have been used – with only The Property of a Lady, Risico and The Hildebrand Rarity remaining (I do not include the short story James Bond in New York, which appeared in Thrilling Cities as it is a fringe piece at best – and the title itself would be rather restrictive for a series which prides itself on its jet-setting, globe trotting storylines). Out of these I would choose either Risico or depending on plot, The Hildebrand Rarity.

Another school of thought is that possibly some of Fleming’s chapter titles could make good movie titles. Fair enough, so a quick glean of the first three Bond novels (Casino Royale, Live and Let Die and Moonraker) gives us a few titles which may work as a movie title. They are:

From Casino Royale
A Whisper of Love, a Whisper of Hate
The Nature of Evil
The Crawling of the Skin
The Bleeding Heart

From Live and Let Die
The Silver Phantom
Death of a Pelican
The Undertaker’s Wind

From Moonraker
The Quickness of the Hand
Dead Reckoning
Pandora’s Box

Of course there are many other Bond books and chapter headings to choose from. Personally if I had to choose from the titles above, I would select A Whisper of Love, a Whisper of Hate or The Undertaker’s Wind. As someone who works on the cusp of the graphic design industry, I think A Whisper of Love, A Whisper of Hate has enormous potential as a logotype, because it has three ‘O’s in it, and can be manipulated to include the 007 text logo. Typographers used to love Roger Moore for the same reason – look at the poster art for Live and Let Die.

Theme Song
Next we have the title song, which is always a bone of contention. Firstly, whoever is chosen to sing the song has to work hand in hand with David Arnold. The title song sets the mood for the film, and I believe the musical cues should in turn hark back to the title track. When songs like Tomorrow Never Dies by Sheryl Crow, Die Another Day by Madonna, and Another Way to Die by Jack White and Alicia Keyes are slapped at the front of the movie without musical riffs, tags or cues being repeated throughout the film (albeit in modified orchestral form), the film feels musically like a patch-work quilt. Those songs above may be to some ears, good songs (I don’t mind Crow’s song), but they do not fit in with the movie.

Laboring the point, I don’t think that Chris Cornell’s Know My Name was a great song, but it worked because he worked with David Arnold and the melody was orchestrated throughout the film. It felt whole – it felt complete.

Sharon Jones - an excellent choice for the next Bond theme!

Next, I guess I should look at musical artists tapped to perform the theme, and this is possibly one of the most subjective things for Bond fans. At my age, I’d like somebody  with a big retro sound, and big voice – I like the idea of Sharon Jones belting out the tune. But the truth is, that Bond films have always used the most popular artists of the day. I tend to look back at Dame Shirley and Tom Jones as almost legendary acts, but in reality Shirley and Tom were simply the pop superstars of the day during the sixties. There longevity in the industry has elevated them to a different plain, and made their Bond songs thematic standards.

Being the old codger that I am, I am not really in tune with the top 40, and who is ‘big’ these days, and I guess I am not really the demographic that the Bond series wants to court – the fifteen to twenty-five year olds are the ones that go to the movies regularly. Tapping into the music of that demographic would appear to be the way to go. I may not like the song, but hey, if they heed my advice and have the musical/pop artist work hand in hand with David Arnold, everything will be okay. Arnold has done the past five Bond scores now. He knows what he is doing, and will make sure it all stays on track.

Casting:

Daniel Craig as James Bond

Daniel Craig is a given, and as such that dictates the style of Bond story it will be. Craig is a rather thuggish and intense Bond (and I am okay with that). Therefore a light-hearted, Roger Moore style Bond movie is a waste of his talent and time. The film has to be amped up and intense.  With Daniel Craig as the incumbent Bond, let him do what he does best. Run around and vigorously kill people – with reason to do so (something personal and emotive). Queen and country is not enough any more. The story must have gravitas, or you just end up with a Bond clone such as Johnny English, or The Spy Who Shagged Me!

Dame Judi Dench as M
Dame Judi Dench as M

Then there is Dame Judi Dench as M. Of course I love Dame Judi, but the thing is, she is getting older, and I doubt she’ll return as M once Daniel Craig’s tenure as Bond has ended. For the record, Craig turns 43 this year, and will be 44 when Bond 23 comes out. Presuming that he makes another film in two years after that, he will then be 46 – and after 4 films, possibly looking at retirement (?). The thing here is, one of the elements that has helped the Bond series ride smoothly over the recasting of Bond every few years has been the consistent supporting cast. When George Lazenby took over the role, Bernard Lee, Desmond Llewellyn and Lois Maxwell were all on hand to sell the fact that this was still Bond. Similarly when Roger Moore took over (okay Llewellyn wasn’t in LALD, but he made his presence felt in Sir Roger’s other Bond adventures) they too were on hand. Robert Brown took over from Bernard Lee as M in Octopussy, and with once again Desmond Llewellyn as Q, they shepherded Timothy Dalton into the role as 007. I am sure you are getting the idea.

My point here is that Dame Judi was the bridge between Brosnan’s Bond and Craig’s Bond. But as Q and Moneypenny have been missing from the last two films, she represents the last link (on screen at least) to the history and continuity of the franchise (Thankfully we have had Jeffrey Wright appear in the last two Bond films as Felix Leiter, but I’ll talk about Wright in a minute).

Over the next two films, I believe a succession plan should be put in for Dame Judi as M, with a new actor groomed to take over as head of M.I.6. Over the last few films, they have depicted a bit more back-room bickering and politics, particularly in Quantum of Solace where M is called before a Minister to explain Bond’s actions. Maybe in Bond 23 the plot could involve Bond doing something that we the audience know is right, and he saves the world, but politically looks rather shaky.

Hugh Laurie - the next M?

As a clumsy example of the type of plot device I mean – maybe a group of terrorists have planted a nuclear bomb on a school bus, loaded with kids. The driver is forced, at gunpoint to drive the bus into the centre of London. Bond on foot, and across the rooftops of cars, chases the bus. The seconds tick down. The bomb is scheduled to go off in two minutes. Bond shoots the gunman through the window, however before dieing, the terrorist gunman shoots the driver. The bus careens out of control and flips over. Bond rushes over and defuses the bomb with seconds to spare. However in the crash, six children have been killed. Bond has saved the life of 15 million people by stopping the bomb, but in doing so, he has inadvertently taken the life of six children. The press have a field day, calling for heads to roll. At the end of the film, M is forced to resign defending 007’s actions. M’s successor could be briefly introduced (I like the idea of Hugh Laurie) – and he obviously shows an outward disdain, bordering on hatred, for 007 and the ‘mess’ he has inherited. In the following film, Bond and the ex-M, Dame Judi could meet. He thanks her for what she has done, and she imparts some final words of wisdom (which may or may not aid him in his mission). I know it sounds a little corny, but hey, I am not a script writer – just a mad blogger!

Jeffrey Wright as Felix Leiter

That brings us to Jefferey Wright as Felix Leiter, and Wright represents one of the great potential building blocks of the Bond series. Firstly Wright is a great actor and can run with Craig on any dramatic aspects of the story. Secondly, at the end of Quantum it was inferred that Felix just been promoted, and as such, I’d expect him to play a more prominent role in the next film. I hope the producers and director don’t allow this opportunity to escape.

Tieing up loose ends
At the end of Quantum of Solace, Mr. White was still alive and still at large – we last saw him at the performance of Tosca, remaining calm and seated while the other Quantum members ran for cover. But my interpretation was that Mr. White was not Quantum’s top man, although he appeared to be higher in the organisation than LeChiffre (Mads Mikkleson – Casino Royale) or Dominic Greene (Matthew Almaric – Quantum of Solace). So who is the head of Quantum?

The film makers have three choices. Firstly they can ignore the Quantum story thread. This to me would be rather unsatisfying, and a slap in the face to audiences and Bond fans in general. Secondly they could tie it up quickly in the pre-title sequence, with Bond rounding up Mr. White, and leaving the Quantum thread up in the air, with investigations continuing in the background. I guess that way, Quantum could return in the future, but I feel that Quantum will be a ‘Craig era’ evil organisation, and therefore it would depend on how many years Craig would be willing to remain the incumbent Bond. If he is willing to stay with Bond until he is fifty (like Brosnan), and make a film every two years, conceivably we could get another four Daniel Craig Bond adventures. But Craig is a busy actor, and whenever the series has been pumped out at one every two years, there was been a noticeable drop in the quality of the films.

The third and final option would be to make Quantum the villains of Bond 23 with Bond managing to take down the whole organisation, out the corrupt politicians behind it, and uncover the mysterious head of the organisation. This is the option I would go for.

Return of an old adversary:

Donald Pleasance as Blofeld

This is an idea that I first heard on the Double-O Section, and I loved it. It’s time to re-introduce Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Some people may cringe at the idea – saying that Blofeld belongs to the 1960s. But I disagree. Blofeld is Bond’s traditional rival, and we haven’t seen him in the official series since 1971 in Diamonds are Forever (I am not counting the cow-catcher at the beginning of For Your Eyes Only, as that was a throwaway that had nothing to do with the plot of the film.) Unofficially we had Max Von Sydow as Blofeld in 1984, in Never Say Never Again. So Blofeld’s last bow was twenty-six years ago.

The conceit of Casino Royale was that Bond had just gained his double-O status, and therefore as a newby he has not encountered Blofeld before, so for those who think that it screws up the chronology of the series, that has already been done. We have to live with that now, but in some ways it may be a boon. Some of the richer Bond lore is fresh game once again, and can revisited once more. That’s not to say that I want a remake of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service…but there is no reason why, in the future, that Bond cannot marry again. But that’s not what I want to see right now.

It would be rather corny to introduce the ‘old’ Blofeld into a contemporary Bond film, I grant you that. So what has to be done, is strip back some of the megalomaniac extravagances that we associate with Blofeld, and make him a bit human. Here’s how I see the story arc going.

Above, I suggested that the Quantum story thread has to be played out. I would have Blofeld as the number two man in the Quantum organisation. Blofeld would NOT be the head of Quantum. But he is a powerful man with a bad temper, possibly bordering on psychotic. But he can be cultured, suave and charming too. He is not an outwardly raving lunatic.

Blofeld has a wife, or a mistress that he loves very much. She is not part of his evil world. She is the only good thing in his life. She has a cat. A white Persian cat. Blofeld hates the cat – he can’t stand the thing.

As the story plays out, in his quest to hunt down the head of Quantum, Bond is lead to Blofeld at his home. A fight ensues – minions die – house explodes. Bond escapes, thinking his job is done and Blofeld is dead.  He now goes after Quantum’s head man, having gleaned the necessary information.

Blofeld also escapes, but has horrible facial injury (made to look like a fresh and bloody version of the facial scarring that Donald Pleasance had in YOLT). Blofeld’s wife dies in the explosion. Blofeld is rather understandably upset at his wife’s demise, and blames Bond and so begins a personal vendetta – this could be carried over into Bond 24 (and possibly the rise of SPECTRE).

The Persian cat lives too and Blofeld, despite his negative attitude toward the cat, keeps it as a reminder of his wife.

Film ends with an epilogue, with Blofeld in a facial reconstruction clinic and his injuries are being repaired by plastic surgery. It has been parodied too much (Dr. Evil for instance) for Blofeld to keep the scar.

Michael Sheen - the next Blofeld?

There have been rumours that actor Michael Sheen has already been tapped to play Blofeld, but I believe that is all conjecture at this stage. I personally would like to see Vincent Cassell take the role, but as he is attached to the new Fantomas picture, it may be too close (or repetitive) to see him as another uber-villain.

Of course, this is all a bit of fantasy and conjecture. Just a bit of fun. Despite my rambling and wishes, the good news is there is going to be a new James Bond film. Whatever comes, I’ll be queued up on the first day to see it, and most likely I will enjoy it, as I have the preceding 22 films before it (not counting Casino Royale 67 and Never Say Never Again – which take the tally to 24 films – but you knew that!)

Bond 23