Goldfinger: No, Mr Bond, I expect you to die!'
The Saint nodded, and for a moment his eyes were two flakes of blue steel.
‘You’re right, Angel Face,’ he said softly. ‘You’re dead right… This planet isn’t big enough to hold us both. And you know as surely as you’re standing there that if you don’t kill me I’m going to kill you, Rayt Marius!’
‘I appreciate that,’ said the giant calmly.
And then the Saint laughed.
‘But still we have to face the question of method, old dear,’ he murmured, with an easy return of all his old mocking banter. ‘You can’t wander round England bumping people off quite so airily. I know you’ve done it before – on one particular occasion – but I haven’t yet discovered how you got away with it. There are bodies to be got rid of, and things like that, you know – it isn’t quite such a soft snap as it reads in story-books. It’s an awful bore, but there you are. Or were you just thinking of running us through the mincing machine and sluicin’ the pieces down the kitchen sink?’
Marius shook his head.
This is essentially the same gag as the one in Austin Powers, only 67 years earlier – and 23 years before James Bond was created. Charteris was poking fun at well-established thriller conventions, and also at himself, as he had used many of them. But he also made sure not to undermine the idea so much that he couldn’t use similar plot devices later:
'‘Not without a cigarette.’
‘Okay. Go ahead. But if there’s a move I don’t like, you’ll be dead.’The joke in Austin Powers about villains not shooting heroes when they get the chance is immediately associated with the Bond films, testament to how successful they have been. A knock-on effect of their global popularity has been that Ian Fleming is now thought to have originated many conventions of the thriller genre that predate his novels by decades. A related convention to the villain preparing overly elaborate methods of doing away with the hero is that while doing so he also boastfully explains his plans. Once the hero has escaped, he is then armed with enough information to stop the plot. Red Grant makes this mistake in From Russia, With Love:
Bond slipped his right hand into his hip-pocket. He drew out his broad gunmetal cigarette case. Opened it. Took out a cigarette. Took his lighter out of his trouser pocket. Lit the cigarette and put the lighter back. He left the cigarette case on his lap beside the book. He put his left hand casually over the book and the cigarette case as if to prevent them slipping off his lap. He puffed away at his cigarette. If only it had been a trick one–magnesium flare, or anything he could throw in the man’s face! If only his Service went in for those explosive toys!’'7
'‘I expect you’d like to know what this is all about. Be glad to tell you. We’ve got about half an hour before you’re due to go. It’ll give me an extra kick telling the famous Mister Bond of the Secret Service what a bloody fool he is.’'8This device also features in Knight Templar: when Rayt Marius captures The Saint, he conveniently outlines ‘the bare and sufficient essentials of an abomination that would set a torch to the powder-magazine of Europe and kindle such a blaze as could only be quenched in smoking seas of blood’.9
Even the popular conception of what constitutes a ‘Bond villain’ predates Ian Fleming. Marius is an arms-dealer trying to start a war on behalf of a group of financiers; said to be ‘one of the richest men in the world’, he is nicknamed the Millionaire Without A Country. He is also a giant, and an ugly one at that, which is why The Saint calls him ‘Angel Face’. In fact, this sort of megalomaniacal super-villain plotting wide-reaching conspiracies has existed since the beginning of the 20th century, featuring in thrillers by the likes of William Le Queux and E. Phillips Oppenheim. These characters were often physically deformed foreigners who wined and dined the hero with great sophistication while pontificating on their grand schemes. Here’s an excerpt from The Man With The Clubfoot by Valentine Williams, published in 1918, in which Prussian spymaster Dr Adolph ‘Clubfoot’ Grundt entertains British secret agent Desmond Okewood:
'‘You smoke?’ queried Clubfoot. ‘No!’ – he held up his hand to stop me as I was reaching for my cigarette case, ‘you shall have a cigar – not one of our poor German Hamburgers, but a fine Havana cigar given me by a member of the English Privy Council. You stare! Aha! I repeat, by a member of the English Privy Council, to me, the Boche, the barbarian, the Hun! No hole and corner work for the old doctor. Der Stelze may be lame, Clubfoot may be past his work, but when he travels en mission, he travels en prince, the man of wealth and substance. There is none too high to do him honour, to listen to his views on poor, misguided Germany, the land of thinkers sold into bondage to the militarists! Bah! the fools!’
He snarled venomously. This man was beginning to interest me. His rapid change of moods was fascinating, now the kindly philosopher, now the Teuton braggart, now the Hun incorporate. As he limped across the room to fetch his cigar case from the mantelpiece, I studied him.
He was a vast man, not so much by reason of his height, which was below the medium, but his bulk, which was enormous. The span of his shoulders was immense, and, though a heavy paunch and a white flabbiness of face spoke of a gross, sedentary life, he was obviously a man of quite unusual strength. His arms particularly were out of all proportion to his stature, being so long that his hands hung down on either side of him when he stood erect, like the paws of some giant ape. Altogether, there was something decidedly simian about his appearance... his squat nose with hairy, open nostrils, and the general hirsuteness of the man, his bushy eyebrows, the tufts of black hair on his cheekbones and on the backs of his big, spade like hands. And there was that in his eyes, dark and courageous beneath the shaggy brows, that hinted at accesses of ape-like fury, uncontrollable and ferocious.
He gave me his cigar which, as he had said, was a good one, and, after a preliminary sip of his wine, began to speak.
‘I am a plain man, Herr Doktor,’ he said, ‘and I like plain speaking. That is why I am going to speak quite plainly to you...’'10
When Ian Fleming sat down to his typewriter in Jamaica in January 1952, he created an iconic fictional hero. Like Sherlock Holmes, Robin Hood and King Arthur, as long as stories are told James Bond will live on. Kingsley Amis wrote The James Bond Dossier as a rallying cry for Fleming to be granted a place in the canon of literature as a genius of popular fiction alongside the likes of Jules Verne, Rider Haggard and Conan Doyle. But that cry has largely been ignored, and a great deal of analysis of Fleming’s work has misunderstood his place in the canon of the thriller – and quite a lot of it has ignored the fundamental principles of literary criticism.
I believe Ian Fleming wrote some of the most groundbreaking and influential thrillers of the 20th century, but that they were so in very different ways than those with which he’s usually credited. To get to what I think Fleming contributed to the genre, it’s necessary to dismantle some long-standing and deep-rooted misconceptions about his work, and the context in which he created it. So in the next few posts in this series, I’ll be looking in greater depth at several old thrillers, many of which have been forgotten, but which I think will seem very familiar if you’re a fan of James Bond.
And I’ll be strapping a few of Ian Fleming’s critics to a work-bench and switching on my laser beam.
With many thanks to Colleen Kelley at the Special Collections of the University of Iowa Libraries.
1, 2. pp145-148 Goldfinger by Ian Fleming, Pan, 1964.
3. Richard Maibaum to Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, April 30 1963, Papers of Richard Maibaum, Special Collections of the University of Iowa Libraries.
4. pp148-149, The Avenging Saint by Leslie Charteris, Hodder & Stoughton, 1954.
5. p150, The Avenging Saint.
6. p16, The Avenging Saint.
7. p195, From Russia, With Love by Ian Fleming, Pan, 1972.
8, p189, From Russia, With Love.
9. p145, The Avenging Saint.
10. pp98-99, The Man With The Clubfoot by Valentine Williams, BiblioBazaar, 2008.
11. ‘What Became of Harting?’ by Richard Boston, New York Times, October 27 1968.
This is part of 007 In Depth, a series of articles on Ian Fleming and James Bond.