THE BOOK #1
The owner of M's private club is worried that one of the members is cheating at bridge, and asks M if he'll look into it. He agrees, and asks James Bond to give the alleged cheater a look, given Bond's reputation at cards. Bond agrees, and discovers that the member, Hugo Drax, is indeed cheating. Bond out-cheats him for some serious money.
M and Bond privately embarrass Drax instead of publicly exposing him because he is a national hero. He is a veteran of World War II, albeit one with amnesia, who built a fortune in Tunisia. He has built and is about to launch the Moonraker, the first ICBM (although it's not called that) for Britain. The launch at Dover is upcoming, and the government is fully on board.
Drax's entire rocket team is German, which arouses no suspicion since that was true for both the United States and the Soviet Union at the time. The rocket's nose will contain measuring instruments instead of a nuclear warhead on its maiden launch, which will splash-land in the North Sea, which His Majesty's Navy has cleared of shipping.
As it happens, a Ministry of Supply security officer at the Dover site is killed, and Bond is ordered to investigate. (He gets special dispensation to work on home grounds, which is MI5's turf.) He is to work with Gala Brand, ostensibly Drax's secretary, but secretly a member of Special Branch. Drax greets him, and seems to have no hard feelings about the bridge game.
Both Bond and Brand have bad dealings with a character named Krebs, who is Drax's right-hand man. Drax won't dismiss him for the sake of team morale, but assures them that Krebs has been disciplined.
Bond's investigation leads him to believe the security officer was murdered for having seen something he shouldn't have — possibly a submarine. Bond and Brand are almost killed on the Dover beach when someone dynamites the cliffs above them. It seems obvious Drax, Krebs and his chief scientist had something to do with it, when Bond and Brand show up for their nightly dinner with the trio after the accident and there are only three place settings.
Eventually they discover the truth. And if they don't stop Drax, London will destroyed!
They say a story is only as good as its villain, and I have to say that Hugo Drax is pretty easy to hate. It's amazing how much he acts like the repellant Elon Musk, who wasn't born yet. I guess it shows that the sociopathic rich, as well as the poor, will always be with us.
There are some problems with Drax. For one thing, Fleming re-uses the amnesia dodge that El Chiffre used in Casino Royale. And it took way too long for Bond and Brand to figure out he was a bad guy despite many clues. For one, this supposed amnesiac British soldier spoke perfect German. For another, he went out of his way to protect Krebs, who would have been fired in any business on the up and up.
This is my favorite "Bond girl" so far.
For one thing, she's an actual professional. Not at Bond's level, of course, but she is in "Special Branch," the anti-terrorism unit of the Metropolitan Police. That's not nothing, even if Bond and others persist in referring to her as a "policewoman."
She shows a lot of agency, and many of the discoveries made in the Bond-Brand investigation are hers. She's the one who discovers Drax speaks German, for example. And it's her head for figures that twigs her to Drax's plan and how to foil it — literally on the fly.
But, OK, there's some silly stuff, too. Like, we learn that her full first name is Galatea, which was the ivory statue that came to life in Pygmalion. Why? Because it's Ian Fleming, that's why.
And we learn when Bond reads her dossier that her measurements are 38-26-38. Seriously? That's preposterously voluptuous. What woman on Earth, outside of a Barbie doll, has ever had that hip-to-waist ratio? And since this one exists, why is she cop instead of a model?
But since this is print I can ignore that and focus on her actions, which are impressive. And Fleming actually gives her story an ending, one where she doesn't die (like Vesper Lynd) or disappear between books (like Solitaire). I appreciate that.
THE BRIDGE GAME
I don't know what readers who don't play bridge thought about the game as described by Fleming (I imagine they were bored), but I do play bridge, and for me it was pretty riveting. Here's the Cliff's Notes for the final hand:
In bridge, like spades, everybody bids. But in bridge it's an auction. If I bid something, the next person has to bid something higher. The last person to bid gets the "contract" at wherever he bid, which sets the trump suit and the number of tricks he must take.
Bond bids seven clubs, which is a contract to take all 13 tricks with clubs as trump. If he does so, he not only wins the hand, but also a "game." (Not all contracts are game. Sometimes you have to win several hands to score enough points for a game.) Two games (out of three) is called a "rubber," and whoever gets there first (and how they get there) earns extra points. Bond and Drax have both won one game at that point, so whoever wins the next game wins the rubber. So seven clubs wins a game for Bond, wins a rubber for Bond, and is a spanking for Drax.
Drax looks at his hand, which is loaded with face cards, and doesn't see any way Bond can win all 13 tricks. So he "doubles" — that is to say, doubling the various penalties for failing to make the contract. Bond then "redoubles," which is exactly what it sounds like. As bridge goes, very few scenarios are more dramatic.
But what makes it work is that Bond's seven clubs bid looks spectacularly terrible from what information the readers — and Drax — have. Bond's hand looks awful. Drax's hand is loaded with almost automatic tricks in all four suits. And he only has to win one trick!
I wondered what sort of "turn the table over" gambit Bond had in mind, but it turns out he was going to win the old-fashioned way. (Cheating.) When we see M's hand, we discover that not only is Bond's team going to make all 13 tricks, but his contract is foolproof. Utterly unstoppable. I nearly pulled a Danny Thomas with my coffee.
- Letter writers to Marvel Comics in 1960s used to complain about "warmed-over Nazis" as bad guys, but here it actually makes sense: The war was only a decade in the past. Men in their early 20s during the war would be early to mid-30s in 1955.
- It's mentioned that Bond gets special dispensation to work in Britain despite being an MI6 agent, the moral equivalent of the CIA. Less clear, however, is why. Wouldn't MI5, the Ministry of Supply and Scotland Yard bitterly complain? Especially since the entire security apparatus surrounding Moonraker's launch (but not internally) is handled by those agencies.
- Moonraker is an ICBM in 1955, which won't exist for two more years in the real world. The Soviets successfully tested the concept on a Vostok rocket in 1957, and then launched Sputnik. The U.S. tested the concept successfully in 1958 with an Atlas rocket.
- I had to look up Ministry of Supply, and why they were providing security for Moonraker. It turns out that Supply was in charge of supplying everything to all branches of the military, so it was pretty important. It had its own security force and intelligence agency and so forth. Supply was folded into the Ministry of Defence in 1959, which is why we people living in the future have never heard of it.
It occurs to me that Bond isn't a very proactive secret agent. Mainly he just survives the assorted tortures, assassination attempts and pummelings he endures in each book. In this book, the one time he is described as acting with authority is when he strides to a telephone to call MI5 because Gala is two hours late for their dinner date. The champagne is getting warm!
But speaking of which, Fleming continues his streak of great action scenes with Bond and Brand getting scalded with hot steam, and then surviving close proximity to a rocket launch.
This is Fleming's best book so far. He's improving.
THE BOOK #2
JAMES BOND AND MOONRAKER (novelization)
Author: Christopher Wood
I didn't read this, as I expect it doesn't have much the movie doesn't have. (Also, I couldn't find a hardback version.) But I'm willing to be proven wrong.
Adapted by: Christopher Wood, Gerry Anderson
Director: Lewis Gilbert
Starring: Roger Moore (James Bond), Michael Lonsdale (Hugo Drax), Lois Chiles (Holly Goodhead), Bernard Lee (M.), Desmond Llewylyn (Q.), Lois Maxwell (Miss Moneypenny)
Notable songs: “Moonraker,” written byJohn Barry, performed by Shirley Bassey
This is a terrible movie.
The space shuttle "Moonraker" is being transported on the back of a 747, as it's on loan to the UK. It is hijacked, and M (Bernard Lee) assigns James Bond (Roger Moore) to investigate.
Bond flies to California to talk to the manufacturer of the shuttles, Drax industries. On the way, he survives being thrown out of the plane by Jaws (Richard Kiel). Once there he meets Holly Goodhead (Lois Chiles), a scientist working for Drax, and survives another assassination attempt on a centrifuge. He also meets Corinne Dufour (Corinne Cléry), who helps him find blueprints for glass vials being manufactured in Venice. He survives another assassination attempt (sniper) and flies to Venice. Drax (Michael Lonsdale) kills Corinne for her betrayal.
In Venice, Bond survives another assassination attempt (gunmen in boats). He sneaks into the glassworks at night and discovers the vials are built to contain a nerve gas. He is attacked again, but survives, managing to at last kill Drax's chief thug, Chang (Toshirô Suga).
He runs into Goodhead again and deduces she is CIA. She tells him that Drax is moving his mysterious operation to Rio de Janeiro. M orders Bond to take two weeks' off — Bond is in trouble with Minister of Defence Frederick Gray (Geoffrey Keen) — but M orders him to take that leave in Rio and to not make any mistakes. Wink, wink. Bond gives a vial of the nerve gas to M for analysis.
In Rio, Bond meets MI6 agent Maneulo (Emily Bolton) of Station VH (?) for some slap and tickle and to investigate a Drax warehouse. They are attacked by Jaws, but Bond saves Manuelo and orders her to go rest up. He runs into Goodhead again, and they are attacked by Jaws on the Sugarloaf Cable Car. They survive, but Goodhead is captured.
Q (Desmond LLewylyn) reports the nerve gas comes from a rare orchid in the Amazon basin, so Bond goes there. He is attacked, but survives, and finds Drax's base. But he is captured by Jaws. In the base, numerous young, attractive people are in evidence. He is told they are astronauts.
Drax launches four shuttles with the astronauts. Drax leaves on a fifth. Bond and Goodhead steal a sixth. They all arrive at a space station in a "That's not a moon, that's a space station" reveal. (See: Star Wars.)
The plan is also revealed: Drax plans to encircle the world with 50 globes full of nerve gas that only kills people (not plants and, somehow, not animals). Then he will repopulate the world with his Master Race of good-looking astronauts. Also, he flatly announces he will be forever in charge, but nobody seems to mind. I imagine they're probably busy trying to figure out how to run the world with a couple hundred people. Good-looking is nice, but you might need some farming, engineering and medical expertise. And at least one dentist.
Bond and Goodhead sabotage the cloaking device that protects the space station from Earth-based detection (See: Star Wars), and the U.S. immediately scrambles a shuttle full of Marines armed with laser guns. There is a space fight. (See: Star Wars.) Jaws and his new girlfriend (Blanche Ravalec) survive, despite making no effort to do so. So do Bond and Goodhead, who pew-pew some globes full of nerve gas.
Bond and Goodhead return on Drax's shuttle (he's dead), and Buckingham Palace and the Minister of Defence want to thank them personally. Gray splutters as the video monitor shows Bond and Goodhead having zero-G, carefully-covered-in-sheets sex. Oh, the scandal!
CHANGES FROM THE BOOK
The Plot: Outside of the name "Hugo Drax," just about everything is different. But then, a story about the first ICBM would have been 20 years out of date.
Instead, the producers turned an eye to hits like Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and 2001: A Space Odyssey, and incorporated elements of those movies into the Bond mythos. (The famous tones from CE3K, for example, are used as a keypad code.) The result is tragic, racing right on into self-parody.
Also, there is no bridge game. (Bastards!)
James Bond: 007's personality is completely different than the book, but that can probably be said of any Bond movie starring super-snarky Roger Moore. He is the same as Print Bond in that he manages to survive an ungodly number of assassination attempts (I lost count), and sleeps with lots of women (three in this movie, unless I've forgotten one).
Hugo Drax: The bad guy is a multimillionaire aerospace manufacturer, like in the books. But in the movie he's American (although the actor is French) and he is utterly humorless (unlike the book's loud, bawdy villain). The fact that he's up to something evil is obvious right away — the book version keeps up the pretense longer — but that only raises the question of why he isn't arrested for trying to kill a government agent over and over, and leaving dead bodies everywhere.
Also he builds a giant space station in orbit around Earth ... and nobody notices. You'd have to launch a lot of shuttles with lots of equipment and lots of building material to do that, and you'd have to have someplace for the workers to live for months if not years. And all on the QT? Frankly, that part is the most amazing thing Drax did.
Gala Brand: This spy seems to morph into Holly Goodhead. Both are undercover agents, the former for Special Branch and the latter for the CIA.
There are a lot of differences. Brand's cover was as a secretary, while Goodhead gets to play scientist. Brand gladly works with Bond, while Goodhead is reluctant. And Brand never sleeps with Bond, while Goodhead gives it a go.
All in all, I think I prefer Brand, who is depicted as engaged, intelligent and insightful. Also full-blooded, although she doesn't sleep with Bond right away (for reasons we later learn). Meanwhile, Lois Chiles, who plays Goodhead, comes from the Blake Lively School of Inert Acting and Zero Chemistry. Her face never seems to react to anything going on around her, and she even looks like a mannequin when supposedly flirting.
At least when she takes off her space helmet, her hair is always perfect. So she's got that going for her.
Q: Like every time I see him, Q acts exasperated when there isn't an obvious reason to be.
M: The head of MI6 looks no-nonsense (or bored) and sits a lot. As usual.
Miss Moneypenny: You know, Bond describes her as "desirable" in, I think, Live and Let Die. Yet in the movies she always looks frumpy and acts sexually frustrated. Was that supposed to be funny, you think?
Jaws: Played by the too-tall Richard Kiel, the metal-mouthed assassin had previously appeared in The Spy Who Loved Me (1977). He is not a very effective assassin, as he keeps failing to kill Bond. (To be fair, Bond has plot armor.)
Jaws has no corresponding character in the book.
Dolly: Played by Blanche Ravalec, Dolly is a girl that Jaws meets and instantly falls in love with (and vice versa, somehow). This contributes to Jaws' change of heart later in the film, when Bond asks Drax if he means to kill anyone who doesn't fit the beauty parameters of his new Master Race. When Drax says, "of course," Jaws realizes that he and Dolly will be eliminated in Drax's new world.
That is almost certainly true of Jaws, who is not only freakishly tall, but wears makeup to look even more odd. But here's the thing: Dolly is gorgeous. The movie tries to make her look dowdy by use of glasses and pigtails, but it's not really successful. I've included a photo to see if anyone here thinks this woman is ugly.
Dolly has no corresponding character in the book.
Corinne Dufour: Played by Corinne Cléry, Corinne pronounced her name with such a thick French accent that I had to look it up to see what she said.
Cléry is gorgeous, but unfortunately comes from same acting school as Lois Chiles. The result is that when she falls into bed with Bond, it seems abrupt and entirely unconvincing. Her best acting in the movie is when she's eaten by dogs.
Cléry, like most of the women in this movie, goes braless throughout. I didn't remember that as a big fashion thing in 1979 (and I was old enough to notice), but my wife assures me it was. This is emphasized by the tops Cléry (barely) wears, which prompted my wife to shout "side boob!" a lot. it is only through the magic of movies that her girls didn't escape their flimsy confinement at any point.
Chang: Played by Toshirô Suga, Chang is another noteworthy addition to the long list of people who just can't seem to kill Bond. He's Drax's chief fixer, so he's more or less the equivalent of Krebs. I think he's also supposed to be reminiscent of Oddjob.
But I knew Oddjob. Oddjob was a friend of mine. And you, sir, are no Oddjob.
Sir Frederick Gray: Portrayed by Geoffrey Keen. IMDb tells me Keen's UK Minister of Defence is a holdover from another Bond movie. His only function seems to be to get embarrassed and outraged by 007. it is not a particularly convincing act.
Gray has no corresponding character in the book.
THE ASSASSINATION ATTEMPTS
The assassination attempts are the most exciting part of the movie, especially the one in the centrifuge, but most don't make sense and the screenwriter doesn't bother to explain them.
For example, there's no reason for Jaws to be on Bond's plane to California. According to the movie itself, he isn't hired by Drax until Chang is killed in Venice.
Further, why is anyone even trying to kill Bond on that flight? He's just a government agent coming to apologize to Drax for losing one of his shuttles. Why bother to kill him and alert the authorities, who at that point don't suspect Drax of stealing one of his own shuttles?
And then there are endless assassination attempts in California, Venice and Rio de Janeiro that no authority figure seems to notice. With all the death and destruction (St. Mark's belltower!) You'd think they'd try to arrest somebody.
Speaking of which, Drax tries to assassinate Bond with a sniper in California, but Bond kills the sniper first. Somebody should be arrested for this. Seriously, either Drax or Bond should call the police, and depending on whom the authorities believe, somebody should be arrested. I mean, there's a dead body to explain.
Or, having failed to kill Bond but having tipped his hand, Drax should just pull out a pistol and shoot Bond dead. (Or order one of his henchpeople to do it.) For that matter, why doesn't Bond pull out a pistol and end Drax's mysterious plan right then and there by ventilating the bad guy? He would be fully justified (Drax just tried to kill him), and they could figure out the mysterious plan later. Instead, Bond makes a snarky remark and leaves unhindered.
The movie acts like the whole world is oblivious to this loud, destructive battle between Bond and Drax, who seem honor-bound to not just kill each outright. Other people all wander around like zombies as things blow up around them. Authorities outside of M don't seem to exist.
- The F/X in the space scenes is terrible. The zero-G acting is particularly unconvincing.
- It is never explained why Moonraker is on loan to the UK.
- I don't know what "Station VH" is. In the books, various station initials are obvious.
- Best Joan quote: "Didn't they feel any shame when they made this movie?"
- This was the first time I didn't care for the theme song. Even Shirley Bassey couldn't save it. Wiki tells me the world agreed, with the song making little impact. It reached #159 on the Billboard chart.
- Watching the movies out of order I don't know this for a fact, but I'm guessing that any time Bond goes anywhere, whatever that place is famous for will be shown. In Venice, we see canals, gondolas and St. Mark's clocktower. In Rio, we see the Sugarloaf Cable Car and Carnivale. (In the book, Bond never leaves England.)
- Corinne Cléry, who plays Corinne Dufour, had previously starred in The Story of O (1975). I've never seen it, but I imagine her girls escaped quite a few times in that film.
- Richard Kiel's Jaws has only one line in the two Bond movies in which he appeared: "Well, here's to us."
- I don't know why all of Drax's technicians and astronauts were wearing puffy yellow jumpsuits. A holdover from Dr. No, perhaps?
- There are candelabra at the entrance to Drax's Mission Command room. Candles. In Mission Control. I can't even.
- This is Bernard Lee's final performance as M. He died of stomach cancer before performing any scenes in the next movie, For Your Eyes Only.