Sunday, August 28, 2011

On Her Majesty's Secret Service - Ian Fleming

Cover from the first edition.
OHMSS is the 11th novel of Ian Fleming's James Bond series. It was published in 1963 and was the first Bond novel written after the start of the official Eon film series. The novel is the second in the so-called 'Blofeld Triolgy', which started with Thunderball, and ended with You Only Live Twice. The Spy Who Loved Me is considered an interlude between Thunderball and OHMSS even though Bond's Thunderball mission is alluded to. OHMSS was itself adapted to film in 1969 and was the 6th of the franchise.

 I watched the film adaptation several weeks and reviewed it on my film blog. I found it a very solid Bond film and consider it one of the best of the entire franchise. What I have found with having now read almost the entire Bond novels is that the better novels also made for the better films. OHMSS is a very fine Bond novel and unquestionably one of the best. Certainly within the top 3-4 of them all in my opinion. The film adaptation has divided opinions in regards to George Lazenby as Bond, but besides that the film is a very faithful adaption of the novel.

 I believe when OHMSS was considered as the next Bond film, Albert Broccoli wanted to make the film as close as possible to the novel. After finishing the novel late last night I think they managed extremely well. There are a few alterations but overall the film is the novel. The only glaring change was that in the novel Ernst Blofeld has a 'luxurious' head of hair, and yet in the film Telly Savalas sports his trademark bald pate!! The film isn't an exact scene for scene shooting of the novel, but everything in the novel is in the film, with some fleshing out for narrative and action purposes.

 But like all Fleming's previous novels OHMSS is riddled with his tiresome prejudices. In The Spy Who Loved Me Fleming played out his quite distasteful rape fantasises, and I'm afraid he does it again in this novel. Tracy is the daughter of a French criminal who raped her English mother. He states to Bond that she 'possessed a sub-conscious desire to be raped......well she found it...and she was me'. Distasteful to say the least, and for all that I like about the Bond novels, Fleming's attitudes to women in particular made for very unpleasant reading. Later on Bond describes the girls in Blofeld's lair as 'rather on the stupid side'!! I'm afraid Ian Fleming was nothing more than a raving misogynist.

 The novel is predominantly set in Switzerland, and Fleming has his obligatory xenophobic dig at any country that isn't England. Here he states through Bond, 'You know the's the religion of Switzerland'!! Fortunately Albert Broccoli had the sense to cut out all of Flemings less savoury aspects from the films. If he had kept them I doubt whether the franchise would have survived too long. They would have been quickly consigned to memory instead of becoming the enduring phenomenon they have become.

 Funnily enough with this being written after the film adaptation of Dr. No actress Ursula Andress is in Blofeld's lair ( see page 193 )!! The novel is even topical as the Israeli abduction of Adolf Eichmann from Argentina is used as an example of how Bond wanted to abduct Blofeld ( see page 86 ). The novel is also noted for the fact that Fleming introduced some history of Bond himself. He is off mixed Scottish-Swiss heritage, which is due to Sean Connery! Initally Fleming wasn't impeessed with Connery being selected to play Bond. but after watching Dr. No he changed his mind, and wrote Connery's Scottish heritage into OHMSS.

 In OHMSS service Fleming also wrote into the plot his own passion for skiing. He and his wife used to Engadine near St.Moritz, and he used the experience in the novel. Also the plot uses heraldry as a back drop, and Blofeld shares Ian Fleming's actual birth date. The crest of arms above on the first edition's cover, is Bond's families, and the motto is 'The world is not Enough', which of course was used as the title for a Pierce Brosnan film.

 So in short if you have seen the film then the novel is virtually the same. As stated this was intentional and since the novel itself is one of Fleming's best the film is also of the same calibre. It is 316 pages long and one of the longest of the series as well. Leaving aside Flemings rape fantasies, misogyny and xenophobia, (which isn't as rampant in this novel as some ), OHMSS is certainly one of the best bond novels Fleming wrote. I get the feeling though that it mirrored Thunderball in being written as a quasi screenplay. That may explain why it adapted to film so well.

 Well I'm almost there as there are only 3 novels left to read!!

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