“All Aboard the Orient Express”

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Below is a look at two major movies and a television movie that featured journeys aboard the famed Orient Express:

 

“ALL ABOARD THE ORIENT EXPRESS”

I will be the first to admit that I am not one of those who demand that a novel, a movie or a television production to be historically accurate. Not if history gets in the way of the story. But there is an anal streak within me that rears its ugly head, sometimes. And that streak would usually lead me to judge just how accurate a particular production or novel is.

Recently, I watched three movies that featured a journey aboard the legendary train, the Orient Express. Perhaps I should be a little more accurate. All three movies, “MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS” (1974)“MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS” (2010) and “FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE” (1963) featured a famous route that came into existence nearly a year following World War I called the Simplon Orient Express. The original route for the Orient Express stretched from Paris to Istanbul via Strasbourg, Munich, Vienna, Budapest and Bucharest. Then in 1919, Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits introduced a more southerly route, due to the opening of the Simplon Tunnel. This route stretched between Paris and Istanbul, via Lausanne, Milan, Venice, Belgrade and Sofia. Writers Agatha Christie and Ian Fleming made the Simplon Orient Express route famous thanks to their novels, “Murder on the Orient Express” (1934) and “From Russia With Love” (1957). And the movie adaptations of these novels increased the route’s fame.

Both Christie and Fleming’s novels featured the Simplon Orient Express’ route from Istanbul to Yugoslavia. There are reasons why their stories do not stretch further west to as far as at least France. In “Murder on the Orient Express”, the train became stuck in a snowdrift in Yugoslavia and detective Hercule Poirot spent the rest of the novel trying to solve the murder of an American passenger. And in “From Russia With Love”, British agent James Bond and his companion, Tatiana Romanova, made it as far as either Italy or France. The 1974 and 2010 adaptations of Christie’s novel, more or less remained faithful to the latter as far as setting is concerned. However, EON Production’s 1963 adaptation of Fleming’s novel allowed Bond and Tatiana to escape from the train before it could cross the Yugoslavia-Italy border.

While watching the three movies, I discovered that their portrayals of the Simplon Orient Express route were not completely accurate. I can imagine the thoughts running through the minds of many, declaring “Who cares?”. And I believe they would be right to feel this way. But I thought it would be fun to look into the matter. Before I do, I think I should cover a few basics about this famous train route from Istanbul to Paris-Calais.

During its heyday, the Orient Express usually departed from Istanbul around 11:00 p.m. Following the rise of the Iron Curtain after World War II, the Orient Express extended it route to stops in Greece in order to avoid the Soviet-controlled countries. The only Communist country it passed through was Yugoslavia. When the train became the slower Direct Orient Express in 1962, it usually departed Istanbul around 4:15 p.m. I do not know whether a restaurant car and/or a salon “Pullman” car was attached to the Direct Orient Express when it departed Istanbul between 1962 and 1977. One last matter. In the three adaptations of the two novels, the Orient Express usually made a significant stop at Belgrade. It took the Orient Express, during its heyday, at least 23 to 24 hours to travel from Istanbul to Belgrade.

Let us now see how accurately the two “MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS” movies and the 1963 “FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE” flick accurately portray traveling aboard the Simplon Orient Express (or Direct Orient Express) on film. I will begin with the “MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS”, the 1974 adaptation of Agatha Christie’s novel.

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“MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS” (1974)

Following the conclusion of a successful case for the British Army somewhere in the Middle East, Belgian-born detective is on his way home to London, via a train journey aboard the famed Orient Express. When an American businessman named Samuel Rachett is murdered during the second night aboard the train, Poirot is asked by his friend and director of the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits, Senor Bianchi, to investigate the crime.

In this adaptation directed by Sidney Lumet, the Simplon Orient Express that left Istanbul did so at 9:00 at night. The movie also included a dining car attached to the train. One scene featured a chef examining food being loaded onto the train. This scene is erroneous. According to the The Man in Seat 61 website, there was no dining car attached to the train when it left Istanbul. A dining car was usually attached at Kapikule on the Turkish/Bulgarian border, before it was time to serve breakfast. The movie also featured a salon car or a “Pullman”, where Hercule Poirot interrogated most of the passengers of the Istanbul-Calais car.

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According to the “Seat 61” site, there was no salon “Pullman” car attached to the train east of Trieste, Italy. Christie needed the presence of the car for dramatic purposes and added one into her novel. The producers of the 1974 movie did the same. At least the producers of the 1974 used the right dark blue and cream-colored car for the Pullman. More importantly, they used the right dark blue cars for the train’s sleeping coaches, as shown in the image below:

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In the movie, the Simplon Orient Express reached Belgrade 24 hours after its departure from Istanbul. For once, the movie was accurate. Somewhere between Vinkovci and Brod, the Orient Express ended up snowbound and remained there until the end of the story.

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“MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS” (2010)

This adaptation of Agatha Christie’s novel first aired on Britain’s ITV network in 2010. The television movie started with Hercule Poirot berating a British Army officer caught in a devastating lie. After the officer commits suicide, Poirot ends up in Istanbul, where he and a British couple witness the stoning of an adulterous Turkish woman. Eventually, the couple and Poirot board the Orient Express, where the latter finds himself investigating the murder of an American passenger.

I do not know what time the Simplon Orient Express departed Istanbul in this adaptation. The movie never indicated a particular time. This version also featured a brief scene with a chef examining food being loaded aboard a dining car. As I previously mentioned, a dining car was not attached until Kapikule. The movie did feature Poirot and some of the Istanbul-Calais car passengers eating breakfast the following morning. In this scene, I noticed a major blooper. Car attendant Pierre Michel was shown serving a dish to Poirot in the dining car. Note the images below:

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Pierre Michel greets Poirot and M. Bouc before they board the train

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Pierre serves breakfast to Poirot

Why on earth would a car attendant (or train conductor, as he was in the 1934 novel) act as a waiter in the dining car? Like the 1974 movie, the ITV adaptation also featured a salon “Pullman” attached to the train, east of Italy. In fact, they did more than use one salon “Pullman”. As I had stated earlier, the westbound Simplon Orient Express usually acquired a salon “Pullman” after its arrival in Trieste. But in this adaptation, the producers decided to use the dark blue and cream-colored “Pullman” cars for the entire train as shown in these images:

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This is completely in error. As I had stated earlier, the Orient Express usually featured a dark-blue and cream-colored salon “Pullman” between Italy and Paris. But it also featured the dark-blue and cream-colored seating “Pullmans” between Calais and Paris. There is no way that the Orient Express leaving Istanbul would entirely consist of the blue and cream “Pullman” cars.

However, the train did arrive at Belgarde at least 24 hours after its departure from Istanbul. Like the other movie, the train ended up snowbound between Vinkovci and Brod and remained there until the last scene. However, I am confused by the presence of the police standing outside of the train in the last scene. Poirot and the other passengers should have encountered the police, following the train’s arrival in Brod, not somewhere in the middle of the Yugoslavian countryside.

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“FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE” (1963)

Ian Fleming’s tale begins with the terrorist organization, SPECTRE, plotting the theft of the KGB’s a cryptographic device from the Soviets called the Lektor, in order to sell it back to them, while exacting revenge on British agent James Bond for killing their agent, Dr. No. After Bond successfully steals the Lektor from the Soviet consulate in Istanbul, he, defector Tatiana Romanova and MI-6 agent Kerim Bey board the Orient Express for a journey to France and later, Great Britain.

While I found this adaptation of Ian Fleming’s 1957 novel extremely enjoyable, I found myself puzzled by the movie’s portrayal of Bond’s journey aboard the Orient Express. It seemed so . . . off. In the movie; the Orient Express conveying Bond, his traveling companions and SPECTRE assassin “Red” Grant; departed Istanbul somewhere between 3:00 and 4:00 o’clock in the afternoon. The train departed Istanbul around nine o’clock at night, in Fleming’s novel. Mind you, the novel was set in the 1950s and the movie, set in the early 1960s, which meant that its departure in the movie was pretty close to the 4:15 pm departure of the Direct Orient Express train that operated between 1962 and 1977. I do not recall seeing a dining car attached to the train, during its departure in the movie, so I cannot comment on that. But after the train’s departure, the movie’s portrayal of Bond’s Orient Express journey proved to be mind boggling.

The main problem with “FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE” is that Bond’s journey proved to be the fastest I have ever witnessed, either on film or in a novel. It took the train at least three-to-four hours to reach Belgrade, following its departure from Istanbul. One, it usually took the Orient Express nearly 24 hours to reach Belgrade during its heyday. During the first ten-to-fifteen years of the Cold War, it took the Orient Express a little longer to reach Belgrade, due to it being re-routed through Northern Greece in an effort to avoid countries under Soviet rule. This was made clear in Fleming’s novel. But the 1963 movie followed the famous train’s original eastbound route . . . but at a faster speed. After killing Grant, Bond and Tatiana left the train before it reached the Yugoslavian-Italian border. Bond’s journey from Istanbul to that point took at least 15 hours. During the Orient Express’ heyday, it took at less than 48 hours. And during the 15 years of the Direct Orient Express, it took longer.

Unlike many recent film goers and television viewers, historical accuracy or lack of it in a movie/television production has never bothered me. I still remain a major fan of both “MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS” (1974 version) and “FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE”. And although I have other major problems with the 2010 “MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS”, there are still aspects of it that I continue to enjoy. Historical inaccuracy has never impeded my enjoyment of a film, unless I found it particularly offensive. But since I can be occasionally anal and was bored, I could not resist a brief exploration of the Hollywood and British film industries’ portrayals of the Orient Express.

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“NORTH BY NORTHWEST” (1959) Review

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“NORTH BY NORTHWEST” (1959) Review

When producers Albert “Cubby” Broccoli and Harry Saltzman first set about creating the James Bond movie franchise, author Ian Fleming – who had written the novels – suggested they hire Hollywood legend, Cary Grant, for the role of the famed British agent. I do not know whether Broccoli and Saltzman seriously considered Fleming’s suggestion, but I cannot help but wonder if had seen the actor in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1959 thriller, “NORTH BY NORTHWEST”.

“NORTH BY NORTHWEST” originated with a deal Hitchcock had with MGM Studios to do a film version of Hammond Innes’ novel, “The Wreck of the Mary Deare”. Hitchcock recruited a friend of his, screenwriter Ernest Lehman, to write the script. But after several weeks, Lehman found himself unable to write an adaptation. Longing to work with Lehman, Hitchcock suggested that he write something else – namely the ultimate “Hitchcock film”. The results turned out to be a chase film featuring an innocent man accused of a crime he did not commit.

The movie’s story begins with advertising executive Roger O. Thornhill being mistaken for a U.S. government agent named George Kaplan, when he summons a hotel bellhop, who is paging Kaplan at the same time. Two enemy agents named Valerian and Licht kidnap Thornhill and take him to their superior, a major foreign spy named Phillip Vandamm, who is using the Long Island home of a man named Lester Townsend for this meeting. When Thornhill continues to insist that he is not George Kaplan, Vandamm orders his right-hand man Leonard, along with Valerian and Licht to stage a drunk driving death for ad executive. The attempt fails and Thornhill escapes. And when Thornhill fails to convince the law that he had been kidnapped, he sets out to clear his name. He tracks the real Lester Townsend to the United Nations, but the latter is killed by one of Vandamm’s henchman. Thornhill is accused of the crime and he flees. When he learns that Kaplan had checked into a hotel in Chicago, he boards the 20th Century Limited, where he meets an attractive woman named Eve Kendall. She helps him evade the police upon their arrival in Chicago. But unbeknownst to Thornhill, Eve is working with Vandamm and Leonard.

Author and journalist Nick Clooney once described “NORTH BY NORTHWEST” as Alfred Hitchcock’s “most stylish thriller, if not his best”. And I have to agree. “NORTH BY NORTHWEST” proved to be an exciting chase film and travelogue that started in Manhattan and Long Island, and ended up on the side of Mount Rushmore in South Dakota. Thanks to Lehman’s screenplay, “NORTH BY NORTHWEST” brimmed with sharp dialogue and even sharper characterization. The movie’s opening, which featured Cary Grant’s Thornhill and his secretary engaged in a last minute meeting over his schedule on the streets of Manhattan, gave audience a pretty clear idea of the ad executive’s personality – charming, intelligent, arrogant and impatient. Thornhill is a character that cries for emotional development.

If I must be honest, the characters proved to be the movie’s biggest assets. As much as I like Lehman’s chase story of an innocent man trying to clear his name of murder, I feel that it has some questionable writing. In fact, some of its inconsistencies reminded me of such one would find in a James Bond movie. If Vandamm wanted Thornhill dead that badly, why arrange for the latter’s death at an isolated bus stop in the middle of the Indiana countryside . . . in broad daylight, using a crop duster? Why not have one of his minions quietly put a knife between his ribs on the streets of Chicago? Even arranging Thornhill’s death as a drunk driving incident seemed a bit over-the-top to me. Why not kill Thornhill first, pour alcohol on his body, set the car on fire before sending it over a ledge? I am not claiming to know how Lehman and Hitchcock should have handled these scenarios. But the methods they used for Vandamm’s attempts on Thornhill’s life struck me as similiar to the idiotic methods that many Bond villains used to kill the British agent.

I have to admit that Vandamm’s attempts on Thornhill’s life provided some of the movie’s more memorable moments. The attempt to pass off Thornhill’s death as a drunk driving incident had me on the edge of my seat and at the same, laughing rather hard. A “drunken” Cary Grant really did have me in stitches. I could also say the same about the sequence at the Chicago auction, following the dust cropper incident, in which Thornhill confronted Vandamm and Eve before being hauled away by cops for his hilarious disruption of the auction. The finale sequence at Mount Rushmore brimmed with Hitchcock’s usual style of suspense. But it was the crop duster sequence that truly impressed me. From a narrative point-of-view, the sequence seemed filled with questionable writing. But as a suspenseful and action sequence, I consider it a masterpiece. The most interesting aspect of the crop duster sequence seemed to be its beginning – that fascinating moment in which Thornhill stands at that isolated bus stop for several minutes, staring at another man who has appeared on the scene before the crop duster’s attack. I noticed that director Terence Young did not hesitate to copy it for one action sequence in the 1963 movie, “FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE”.

The crop duster sequence and many other scenes benefited from Robert Burks’ excellent photography. I was also impressed by George Tomasini’s editing, which struck me as especially effective in the Long Island, crop duster and Mount Rushmore sequences. Composer Bernard Herrmann, who once made an interesting comment on Richard Rodney Bennett’s score for “MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS”, collaborated on many Hitchcock’s films during a nine-year period between 1955 and 1964. One of those scores was the memorable one he wrote for “NORTH BY NORTHWEST”. His score blended well with the opening titled sequence created by Saul Bass.

But as I had stated earlier, the movie’s biggest strength turned out to be the cast. Both Adam Williams and Robert Ellenstein made quite a sinister pair as Vadamm’s two henchmen, Valerian and Licht. Jessie Royce Landis, who was only seven years older than Cary Grant, gave quite a humorous and stylish performance as his witty mother, Mrs. Thornhill. Leo G. Carroll, who later became famous for the 1960s series “THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.”, was perfect as the intelligent and manipulative spymaster, “the Professor”.

For me, there were four performances that stood out for me. Martin Landau gave his first stand-out performance as Vandamm’s observant, yet malevolent henchman, Leonard. Unless my eyes were deceiving me, Landau seemed to have given Leonard a slight homosexual subtext that I found interesting. In many ways, James Mason’s Vandamm seemed to be the perfect nemesis for Cary Grant’s Thornhill . . . especially with his silky voice, suave manners and good looks. But Mason made sure that the menace was always there behind the debonair facade. I must admit that Eva Marie Saint would have never been my first choice as the movie’s femme fatale, Eve Kendall. But I had forgotten that Saint was a first-rate actress and Oscar winner. I should not have been surprised by her ability to be chameleon and create a leading female character who seemed to be ahead of her time. However, the man of the hour proved to be Cary Grant. He has portrayed characters more complex than Roger Thornhill. But Lehman’s script still managed to provide plenty of bite to a role that began as a child in a man’s body and developed into a heroic and responsible man who managed to retain his wit. I think that Thornhill may prove to be one of my favorite Grant roles.

I do not feel that “NORTH BY NORTHWEST” was one of Alfred Hitchcock’s best movies. But I cannot deny that I found it to be one of his most stylish and entertaining films. Not only did it feature memorable action sequences, humor and a superb cast led by Cary Grant; I feel that it could have easily served as a template for many James Bond movies throughout the years. I really look forward to watching the movie as many times possible in the future.

“Being Pure to Ian Fleming’s James Bond”

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“BEING PURE TO IAN FLEMING’S JAMES BOND”

Lately, there has been a great deal of talk about EON Productions being pure to the James Bond novels written by Ian Fleming. Demands that Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli adhere closely to the novels have increased on many Bond forums. And I cannot help but wonder what has brought about the increasing number of demands.

Certain Bond fans have demanded the following: 

*The Bond franchise should avoid political correctness altogether.

*Bond should smoke on screen.

*M should be a man.

*Felix Leiter should be a white blond Texan, as described in the novels.

There are probably more demands, but the above are the ones I tend to encounter on the forums. I have also read demands that the Bond movies should either stick to the fantasy-adventure elements first introduced in “GOLDFINGER”or should stick to being tight spy thrillers like “FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE”. In regard to the style of the Bond stories, I personally prefer tight spy thrillers like “CASINO ROYALE”“FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE”“FOR YOUR EYES ONLY”and “THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS”. However, if a Bond movie with a fantasy-adventure style of storytelling is well written, I can be very tolerant of it. In fact, there are one or two of them that are favorites of mine – “THUNDERBALL”“THE SPY WHO LOVED ME” and “GOLDENEYE”.

Now, in regard to the demands I had listed earlier, here are my responses to them:

*The Bond franchise should avoid political correctness altogether – Why? Why should the Bond franchise stay mired in the political incorrectness of the past? I have always had the impression that EON Productions made sure that the Bond films kept up with the times. I have no problem with James Bond remaining sexist. That is the man’s character. But I would have a problem if the movies maintained some old-fashioned view on women, non-whites or non-British characters. In 1962’s “DR. NO”, there is a scene on Crab Key in which Bond ordered Quarrel to pick up his shoes. Every time I see that scene, I wince. Even for 1962 that seemed a bit too much, especially since the Civil Rights movement was going on at the time. Hell, in the same year, “THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE” featured a black psychiatrist working with U.S. Army intelligence. Many Bond fans have a problem with a Bond leading lady being a secret agent or someone capable of being an action character. I find this idea laughable. Are these people threatened by the idea of a woman being capable of shooting a gun or martial arts? Do they feel that such a character in a Bond movie would threatened their sense of well-being or their view of Bond as invincible and one-of-a-kind? I do not demand that all Bond women be spies or some kind of action figure. But I do not see the harm that they mix it up every now and then. In the end, I would find the idea of non-British and non-white characters being portrayed as inferior characters or the idea of Bond female leading ladies being nothing more than eye candy and bed warmers for Bond in all of the movies, repellent and a good excuse to avoid a Bond movie in the future.  In the end, these sexist moviegoers got their wish in the recent “SKYFALL”, when competent female MI-6 agent named Eve became secretary Miss Moneypenny at the end of the movie . . . on the grounds that she could not handle being a field agent.  This act pissed me off so much that I almost felt inclined to throw a shoe at the movie screen in anger.

*Bond should smoke on screen – Again, why? Why does Bond have to smoke on screen? What is the big deal? Personally, I could not care less. Connery smoked, but not that often and I barely noticed. I can say the same about Lazenby. As far as I know, Moore only smoked cigars in his first two movies. Dalton smoked in one scene of his first Bond movie. Did Brosnan smoked? If so, I do not remember . . . and I do not care. And I do not recall seeing Craig’s Bond smoking. In other words, the idea of Bond as a smoker can go either way with me. I simply feel that it is a matter that is not a big deal.

*M should be a man – The United Kingdom has had a female monarch for the past sixty-one years. For a period of ten or eleven years, it had a female Prime Minister. And MI-6 – until recently – was led by a woman. Why in the hell should gender matter in regard to M’s role? Are those who are demanding that M return to being a man are telling us that only a man can be an authority figure? This is the 21st century! That idea is ridiculous! Hell, it was ridiculous when Queen Elizabeth I ruled England back in the 16th century as one of the country’s greatest monarchs. I have also encountered complaints about M (Dench) castigating Bond whenever he screwed up. They act as if she did not have the right to lecture him. What nonsense! Dench is not the first M to castigate Bond. Bernard Lee’s “M” did it in “GOLDFINGER” after Bond had screwed up his assignment in Miami. He was bitchy with Bond in “DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER”, following the conclusion of the latter’s revenge search for Blofield. And Lee did it again in “THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN” when Roger Moore’s Bond and Lieutenant Hip lost that solar power device – “Solex agitator”. Robert Brown’s M castigated Timothy Dalton’s Bond in their two movies together. So why have certain fans decided to complain about Dench’s M doing the same during her tenure in the Bond franchise? Was it because they could not deal with Bond being castigated by a female authority figure? And why on earth is it necessary for M to be a man?  Unfortunately, EON Productions heeded the fans and replaced Judi Dench’s M – in the most gruesome and politically incorrect way possible – with a male M now portrayed by Ralph Fiennes.  The Bond franchise has taken another step backward.

*Felix Leiter should be a white blond Texan, as described in the novels – What in the hell? Why on earth is it necessary for Felix Leiter to be a blond, white Texan? Because he was one in the Fleming novels? So what? In the 44-year history of the Bond franchise, has the movie version of Felix Leiter EVER been a blond, white Texan? I certainly do not recall one. John Terry, who portrayed Leiter in “THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS”, was born and raised in Florida, if that would help. But he certainly was not a blond. I do not even know if Rik Van Nutter of “THUNDERBALL” was a blond or simply prematurely gray. Neither Jack Lord, Norman Burton, Cec Linder or David Hedison were tall, lanky blonds from Texas. In fact, none of these actors have ever used a Texas accent in portraying Leiter. But they have all been white. Is that the problem? Are they upset that the latest actor to portray Leiter, Jeffrey Wright, was an American black? Well another black American actor, Bernie Casey, portrayed Leiter in the 1983 unofficial Bond movie, “NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN”. I do not recall any outrage over his casting. However, I do believe there should have been one. Although good-looking, Mr. Casey did not strike me as a very good actor. Since Felix Leiter has NEVER been portrayed as a lanky blond white Texan in the Bond film franchise’s 50-year history, I see no reason why EON Productions should consider one now.

As for being a Fleming purist, I can honestly say that I am not one. Quite frankly, aside from a few titles like “From Russia With Love”“Thunderball” and “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”, I am not a real fan of Ian Fleming’s writing. And I do not consider those three novels as the best example of action or noir literature. Although Fleming seemed to have had a talent for characterization and picturesque settings, I do not think that most of his narratives were that hot. In fact, his plots seemed to be the weakest part about his writing. I do not think that a Fleming plot is needed for a Bond movie to be great. As for the battle between the fantasy-adventure elements and the spy thriller elements, EON Productions have switched back and forth between the two styles. In fact, so has Ian Fleming. The switch between the two styles can be viewed as one aspect in which EON Productions has been “pure” to the novels.

And this all brings me back to this demand that EON Productions be pure to the Fleming novels. I am not saying that many of these “purist” fans stop posting complaints about the differences between the novels and the movies. Hell, they have every right to express their opinions. But if they are going to post these complaints for the world to see, then fans such as myself have the right to express why I do not agree with them. Just as these same “purists” have the right to express their disagreement with this article – which I suspect will soon happen.

I have one last question to ask – since when has EON Productions ever been completely “pure” to the novels? Was it in“ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE”, the 1969 adaptation of Fleming’s 1963 novel? Well, there are some differences between the novel and the movie. One, the literary Tracy is a blond. The movie Tracy (Diana Rigg) obviously is a brunette. And in the movie, Bond is portrayed by an Australian actor, whose accent popped up every now and then. If EON Productions has never been completely “pure” to the novels – aside from changing back and forth between using fantasy elements and thriller elements – why on earth should it start now?

Top Favorite CHRISTMAS Movies

Christmas Movies

Below is a list of my favorite Christmas movies . . . or movies set around the Christmas holidays: 

TOP FAVORITE CHRISTMAS MOVIES

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1. “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” (1969) – Based upon Ian Fleming’s 1963 novel, James Bond’s professional life and personal life intertwine, when he falls in love during his search to find criminal mastermind, Ernst Stravo Blofeld. George Lazenby starred as British agent James Bond.

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2. “The Thin Man” (1934) – William Powell and Myrna Loy starred as Nick and Nora Charles in this adaptation of Dashiell Hammett’s novel about a former private detective who is drawn into an investigation of the murder of the secretary/mistress of a wealthy man, who is missing. W.S. Van Dyke directed.

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3. “Die Hard” (1988) – Bruce Willis debuted as NYPD detective, John McClane, who faces a group of highly organizedcriminals, performing a heist under the guise of a terrorist attack, while holding hostages that include McClane’s wife on Christmas Eve. Directed by John Tiernan, the movie co-starred Bonnie Bedelia, Alan Rickman and James Shigeta.

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4. “Trading Places” (1983) – John Landis directed this comedy about an upper class commodities broker and a homeless street hustler, whose lives cross paths when they are unknowingly made part of an elaborate test of nature vs. nurture by a pair of wealthy elderly brothers. Dan Ackroyd and Eddie Murphy starred.

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5. “Christmas in Connecticut” (1945) – Barbara Stanwyck and Dennis Morgan starred in this charming comedy about a food writer who has lied about being the perfect housewife. She is forced to cover her deception when her boss and a returning war hero invite themselves to her home for a traditional family Christmas. Peter Godfrey directed.

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6. “Lethal Weapon” (1987) – Mel Gibson and Danny Glover first paired together in this action tale about a veteran cop and a suicidal younger cop forced to work together and stop a gang of former C.I.A. operatives, turned drug smugglers. Richard Donner directed.

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7. “The Santa Clause” (1994) – Tim Allen starred in this funny tale about a man, who inadvertently kills Santa Claus, before he finds himself magically recruited to take his place. Directed by John Pasquin.

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8. “Die Hard 2” (1990) – Bruce Willis returned as police detective John McClane, who attempts to avert disaster as rogue military officials seize control of Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C., on Christmas Eve.

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9. “While You Were Sleeping” (1995) – Sandra Bullock and Bill Pullman starred in this charming romantic comedy about a Chicago ticket collector, who saves a man for whom she harbors feelings after he is pushed onto the commuter train tracks. While he is in a coma, his family mistakes her for his fiancée. Jon Turteltaub directed.

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10. “Home Alone” (1990) – Macaulay Culkin became a star in this holiday comedy about an eight year-old boy, who is mistakenly left home in Chicago, when his family flies to Paris for the holidays. Chris Columbus directed this movie, which co-starred Joe Pesci, Daniel Stern, John Heard and Catherine O’Hara.

Favorite Train Journey Movies (REVISED)

A few years ago, I had posted a list of my favorite movies featuring train journeys. Below is a new list. To be honest, the revisions are few, but . . . hey, I felt bored. So I made another list. Without further ado, here it is: 

FAVORITE TRAIN JOURNEY MOVIES (REVISED)

1. “Murder on the Orient Express” (1974) – Sidney Lumet directed this all-star adaptation of Agatha Christie’s 1934 novel about Hercule Poirot’s investigation of an American passenger aboard the famed Orient express. Albert Finney starred as Poirot.

2. “Silver Streak” (1976) – Gene Wilder, Richard Pryor and Jill Clayburgh starred in this comedy thriller about a man who stumbles across a murder and criminal conspiracy during a train journey from Los Angeles to Chicago. Arthur Hiller directed.

3. “North West Frontier” (1959) – Kenneth More and Lauren Bacall starred in this adventure about a British Army officer assigned to escort a young Indian prince across rebel-held territory in British India. J. Lee Thompson directed.

4. “From Russia With Love” (1963) – Sean Connery stars as James Bond in this action thriller about the British agent’s efforts to steal the Soviets’ encryption device, unaware that he is being used as a patsy by SPECTRE. Directed by Terence Young, Daniela Bianchi, Lotte Lenya, Pedro Armendáriz and Robert Shaw co-starred.

5. “The First Great Train Robbery” (1979) – Sean Connery, Donald Sutherland and Lesley Anne Down starred in this comedy thriller about Victorian thieves who make plans to rob a moving train filled with gold for troops during the Crimean War. The movie was written and directed by Michael Crichton.

6. “The Lady Vanishes” (1938) – Alfred Hitchcock directed Margaret Lindsay and Michael Redgrave in this thriller about a young Englishwoman, who realizes that an elderly female passenger has disappeared.

7. “The Tall Target” (1951) – Dick Powell starred in this thriller about a New York cop, who tries to prevent President-elect Abraham Lincoln from Confederate sympathizers out to assassinate him during his rail journey from New York to Washington D.C. for his inauguration. Paula Raymond, Adolphe Menjou and Ruby Dee co-starred.

8. “Narrow Margin” (1990) – Gene Hackman and Anne Archer starred in this crime thriller about an assistant districtattorney from Los Angeles, who escorts a witness to the murder of a Mafia boss’ accountant. James B. Sikking co-starred.

9. “Shanghai Express” (1932) – Josef von Starnberg directed Marlene Dietrich in this tale about about a dangerous rail journey through China during a civil war. Anna May Wong and Clive Brook co-starred.

10. “The Mystery of the Blue Train” (2005) – In this adaptation of Agatha Christie’s 1928 novel, Hercule Poirot investigates the brutal murder of an American heiress aboard the Blue Train. David Suchet and Elliot Gould starred.

“SKYFALL” (2012) Review

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“SKYFALL” (2012) Review

Before I had sat down in a movie theater to watch the latest James Bond movie, “SKYFALL”, it occurred to me that four years had passed since the last movie about the MI-6 agent. During those four years, EON Productions endured another round of legal entanglements regarding the Bond franchise, delaying the production and release of “SKYFALL”by at least two years. But in the end, producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson came through and released the company’s 23rd James Bond film. 

“SKYFALL” begins in Istanbul, Turkey; where MI-6 agents James Bond and “Eve” go after a mercenary named Patrice, who has managed to steal a list of undercover NATO agents from the laptop hard drive of a MI-6 field agent. Their assignment ends in disaster after Patrice wounds Bond in the shoulder, and “Eve” accidentally shoots Bond, during his fight with the mercenary atop a moving train. Following the Istanbul debacle, “M” is pressured by Intelligence and Security Committee Chairman Gareth Mallory to retire. During M’s return from her meeting, the MI-6 computer servers are breached, resulting in an explosion at the building that kills a number of employees. Bond, who had used his “death” to retire, returns to London and asks to return to the field. Despite his failure to pass a series of physical and psychological examinations, M allows Bond to find the person behind the theft of the list of NATO agents and the MI-6 explosions. Bond’s investigations eventually leads him to a former MI-6 agent named Raoul Silva who wants to humiliate, discredit and ultimately kill M as revenge against her for betraying him years ago.

When I finally walked out of that movie theater, as the end credits for “SKYFALL” rolled, the first thought that came to my mind was that the movie was a piece of crap. I was very disappointed by “SKYFALL”. The more I thought about the plot and characterizations featured in “SKYFALL”, I finally realized that my feelings about the movie had not changed. I still believe it was a piece of crap and one of the worst James Bond movies I have ever seen.

There are certain aspects of “SKYFALL” that I found admirable. And before I delve into the reasons behind my dislike of the film, I might as point out these admirable traits. Unlike 2008’s “QUANTUM OF SOLACE”“SKYFALL” was not marred by an uneven pacing. Directed Sam Mendes did an excellent job of giving the movie a steady pace that did not leave me breathless or groggy. I also have to give kudos to cinematographer Roger Deakins for his sharp, yet beautiful photography of the different locations featured in the film – especially for Istanbul, London and Scotland. And most of the action sequences in the movie – especially Raoul Silva’s attack upon M at a public inquiry and the chase scene through London’s Underground system – struck me as very exciting and well shot, thanks to Mendes’ direction, along with Stuart and Kate Baird’s editing.

Looking back on “SKYFALL”, I noticed that it featured some first-rate acting, by a superb cast. Daniel Craig returned for a third time to portray 007. And as usual, he was in top form, capturing the British agent’s self doubts after being shot in Istanbul. After seventeen years, Judi Dench portrayed “M” for the last time in a plot in which her character plays a major role in the story. Many have been speculating about an Academy Award for her excellent performance. The only reason I am not jumping on this bandwagon is that Dench has been knocking it out of the ballpark as “M”, ever since she first assumed the role in 1995’s “GOLDENEYE”. Javier Bardeem seemed to have been inspired by Heath Ledger’s Oscar winning performance as the Joker in his portrayal of Raoul Silva, a former MI-6 agent who seeks revenge against “M”. In his way, the actor’s performance was just as colorful. However, I do not think I will ever consider him to be one of my favorite Bond villains. I found his performance a little too showy and not very original for my tastes.

Naomie Harris was in fine form as MI-6 agent “Eve”, who turned out to be the iconic Miss Moneypenny. I really enjoyed Harris’ performance, but I have something to say about her transformation from field agent to secretary. Bérénice Marlohe did the best she could with the small role of Sévérine, a former victim of the sex trade who became Silva’s representative and mistress. Ben Whishaw was a ball as a young and geeky “Q”, who seemed more like a computer hacker, instead of an arms quartermaster. Both Ralph Fiennes and Rory Kinnear gave solid performances as Intelligence and Security Committee Chairman Gareth Mallory and Bill Tanner, “M”‘s Chief of Staff. And Albert Finney gave a lively and entertaining performance as Kincade, the gamekeeper of the Skyfall estate that belongs to Bond.

But despite its positive attributes, in the end I found “SKYFALL” very disappointing. And I believe the movie’s main problems could be found in the script written by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan. The movie began in Istanbul with Bond and Moneypenny attempting to get their hands on the list of undercover NATO agents that had been stolen from another MI-6 agent. Unfortunately, the movie never explained how a field agent ended up with such a list on his laptop hard drive in the first place. Some fans have dismissed this plot hole, claiming it would have been unnecessary for the script to explain such a situation. I am sorry, but I refuse to dismiss it. For me, it does not make sense that a field agent stationed in Istanbul would have such a list in the first place. Only unusual circumstances could explain this situation . . . and the screenplay refused to do so.

The screenplay also failed to explain why Silva waited so long to go after the NATO agents on the list Patrice stole for him. A certain period of time had passed between the incident in Istanbul and the bombing at MI-6. What took Silva so long to go after those agents? And did “M” or the British government ever bothered to alert NATO that some of their agents were exposed? Judging by the ease Silva killed some of the agents, I gather not. I also found Silva’s plans regarding his revenge against “M” rather convoluted. From what I gathered, he wanted to humiliate her before he can kill her. If it was that easy for him to bomb MI-6, why did he have to resort to allowing himself to be captured by Bond, in order to get close enough to kill her? He could have flown to the U.K. and killed before Bond or anyone else was able to guess he was behind the debacles that dogged “M” in the movie. And how did he know she would be appearing before a public inquiry on the very day he busted out of MI-6’s new quarters?

I also found Bond’s efforts to save “M” very questionable. One, how did Silva managed to track Bond and “M” to the former’s Scottish estate so easily? Were Bond and “M” wearing tracking devices? Did Silva use their cell phones? How? And if Bond had expected Silva to track them, why on earth did he not recruit back up to help him? If Silva had men to help attack “M” at the public inquiry, surely Bond must have realized that the former MI-6 agent would have help in Scotland. Instead, Bond relied upon the aging Kincade. I do not know who to charge with incompetence – the Bond character or the writers that created this scenario. Speaking of Skyfall, the sequence there featured two graves with the names of Bond’s parents, Andrew and Monique Bond. One might ask “what is wrong with that?” This would have been fine . . . if Purvis, Wade and screenwriter Paul Haggis had not re-written Bond’s past in 2006’s “CASINO ROYALE”. In that particular movie, Tresury agent Vesper Lynd accurately surmised that Bond was a middle-class or working-class orphan, whose education had been financed by a wealthy benefactor. In “SKYFALL”, the writers used Bond’s literary background. In other words, his father came from the Scottish landed gentry and his mother, from Switzerland. So . . . what happened to the background established in “CASINO ROYALE”? Did EON Productions rebooted the franchise for a second time, during Craig’s tenure? If so, I find this very sloppy on the writers’ part.

Before “SKYFALL” was released in U.S. movie theaters, I came across a few articles on the Internet, claiming that the movie might be less sexist than the previous Bond films. They cited the expanded role of “M” as an example of this more politically correct portrayal. After seeing “SKYFALL”, I realized that this opinion of a more feminist friendly movie is a joke. This movie has set the portrayal of female characters in the Bond franchise back at least forty to fifty years . . . back to characters such as Honey Ryder, Jill and Tilly Masterson, Tiffany Case, Solitaire, Andrea Anders and Mary Goodnight. Here is a look at the four female characters featured in this movie:

*Clair Dowar MP – Helen McCrory portrayed the Member of Parliament who led the inquiry into “M”‘s leadership of MI-6. It was bad enough that McCrory portrayed the character as a screeching harpy. But during the inquiry, she was interrupted by Gareth Mallory, who “suggested” in a patronizing manner that she cease her rants and allow “M” to talk. And she did! Why on earth did the screenwriters allowed Mallory to get away with such behavior to a MP? The script should have allowed Dowar to order Mallory to shut his hole and continue her rant, before allowing “M” to speak. But no. . . the all knowning male, Mallory, is allowed to shut her up in a very patronizing manner.

*Sévérine – Bérénice Marlohe, who portrayed Raoul Silva’s mistress, claimed she was inspired by Famke Janssen’s portrayal of “GOLDENEYE” villainess Xenia Onatopp. Honestly, I do not see the resemblance. Onatopp was a badass and slightly psychotic former fighter pilot and killer. Marlohe’s Sévérine simply struck me as a world weary woman who turned out to be nothing more than a bed warmer for Bond and a long time sex toy and tool for Silva. One, she barely lasted longer than a half hour in the film. Two, Bond had sex with her, despite guessing that she used to be a part of Asia’s child sex trade. Even worse, he failed to consider that sex with her would endanger her life. But he screwed her anyway in a rather . . . tasteless scene and Silva ended up shooting her like a dog. In the end, I realized that Sévérine reminded me of all those female Bond sacrificial lambs, whom Bond got to screw before they got bumped off. Marlohe was really wasted in this movie.

*Eve Moneypenny – Poor Naomie Harris. I realize that as the new Miss Moneypenny, she will have a job with the Bond franchise, as long as Craig continues to portray 007. But honestly, the screenwriters really screwed her in this film. Are audiences really supposed to believe that her character was unsuited to be a field agent, after the debacle in Istanbul? After all, she told “M” that she did not have a clean shot, before the latter ordered her to take it. Yet, upon Eve’s reunion with Bond in London, he tries to undermine her self-esteem by claiming she was unsuited for such a role. And then . . . what happens? Eve is assigned to assist Bond in Macau and ends up saving his life. Later, she held herself well during Silva’s attack against “M” at the public inquiry. Yet, near the end of the film, she informs Bond that he was right and decided to leave the field and become a secretary. A fucking secretary? This is how EON Productions set up Moneypenny for the Craig tenure? Not once did the film ever really indicated that Moneypenny had any difficulty over what happened in Istanbul. I felt really insulted after that last scene between Bond and Moneypenny.

*“M” – “SKYFALL” was supposed to be Judi Dench’s swan song in the role of Head of MI-6, after seventeen years. And this was EON Productions’ idea of a send off for Dench? Transforming her character into an incompetent boob? They had her character making mistakes left and right. Even worse, they reduced this “strong woman” into a useless and helpless female, who needed Mallory to come to her defense during MP Dowar’s rant against her and Bond to save her from Silva. And yet . . . if she was really that incompetent, how is it that she was the only one who figured out that a former MI-6 was behind their troubles? If the portrayal of “M” was supposed to be an example of a proper female hero, EON Productions can keep it.

There were other aspects of “SKYFALL” that left me feeling disappointed. I am a great admirer of Adele as a singer. But honestly? I have no memories of the movie’s theme song performed by her. The song simply went into one ear and out of the other. I also noticed that certain moments in the film showcased Craig posing in a standing position. In other words, he usually stood in one spot – whether at the bow of the boat delivering him to the Macau casino, next to Sévérine at the bow of Silva’s yacht, on a hill overlooking his family’s estate or on the rooftop overlooking the London skyline – feet apart and well dressed. Here is an example of that pose:

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Before the movie ended, I could not tell whether I was watching a James Bond action film or a photo spread from a“GQ” magazine.

Ah . . . EON Productions. You really disappointed me this time. I had bought all of the claptrap about this being one of the best James Bond movies in years. Looking back, I now realize that Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson had overreacted to some of the negative press over “QUANTUM OF SOLACE”, which I actually enjoyed despite its flaws. The fans could not deal with a dark and grim follow-up to “CASINO ROYALE”, and the two producers reacted by delivering a movie that could not make up its mind on whether it was a grim espionage tale or a typical Bond fantasy adventure. It tried to be both and failed in the end . . . at least for me.

“Daniel Craig and the Future of JAMES BOND”

“DANIEL CRAIG AND THE FUTURE OF JAMES BOND”

There have been a great deal of talk about how EON Productions will take the James Bond character in future movies. Many have also speculated on how Daniel Craig will approach the character – especially in the upcoming BOND 23. I have no idea how the Bond character will be treated in future movies, but I do a few things to say about Daniel Craig as Bond. 

First of all, I do not believe that “CASINO ROYALE” and “QUANTUM OF SOLACE” were unique in being the only Bond films that seemed like a slightly realistic spy thriller. Before Craig’s two movies, there was “FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE”“ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE”“FOR YOUR EYES ONLY” and “THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS”. We also had movies like “THUNDERBALL”and “OCTOPUSSY” with plots that seemed very probable in the real world (nuclear threats in the name of extortion or/and political manipulation). And there was “LICENSE TO KILL” that was gritty, but seemed more like a revenge story than a spy thriller. But I do believe that “CASINO ROYALE” was one of the best movies in the franchise. I also believe that “QUANTUM OF SOLACE” was an exciting and gritty thriller, although not as well done as “CASINO ROYALE” In fact, I feel that both movies were well-written thrillers with complex and three-dimensional characters.

As for Daniel Craig, many have criticized his Bond for acting like a professional and experienced agent at the beginning of“CASINO ROYALE”, despite being a novice. I have to point out that in this version of “CASINO ROYALE”, Bond WAS NOT a novice spy at the beginning of the story. He already had experience as an intelligence operative for the Royal Navy and as an agent for MI-6. At the beginning of the movie, he had simply been promoted to the “00 Section”. He had already been serving with MI6 for some time.

Although I have enjoyed the performances of all six (or should I say eight?) actors who have portrayed Bond, Daniel Craig’s performance has appealed to me a lot stronger than the others. I am not saying that I believe that his Bond is the best. I simply prefer his Bond a lot stronger than I do the others. So far, Craig’s Bond has not been tinged by Connery’s lack of humanity, Lazenby’s inexperienced background, Moore’s cheeky humor, Dalton’s heavy angst factor or Brosnan’s mediocre scripts. This latest manifestation of Bond is a ruthless and athletic man with a sardonic sense of humor, a taste for good living, a penchant for taking chances and allowing his ego to go uncheck. But knowing EON Productions’ reputation for sometimes screwing up a good thing, who knows what will happen?

I have heard comments that Craig’s Bond had fully become the iconic figure of the last 44 or 45 years by the end of “CASINO ROYALE”. But others have pointed out that the character who had shot Mr. White at the end of the movie had become the same man who had chased Mollaka in Madagascar. I am more inclined to believe the latter. As his next film, “QUANTUM OF SOLACE” seemed to have attest, I believe that Bond’s character had slightly regressed, due to the heartache he had suffered over Vesper’s betrayal and death. Somewhat. After all, Bond did manage to bring down Mr. White without allowing his emotions, ego or trigger finger to get the best of him. He barely managed to keep his thirst for revenge in check. Although his refusal to face his feelings for Vesper formed a cloud over him. Hopefully, EON Productions will allow the audience to see Bond develop beyond the cold-blooded and brutal man that used women to avoid emotional attachments. I hope that by the time Craig shoots his last Bond film, his character will develop into a somewhat mature man who has learned to balance any emotional attachments he may have formed with the ruthless agent he has to be in order to do his job.