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Goldfinger: “Oddjob: the Pressure Room”

‘Are the James Bond novels any good?’ a friend asked me the other day.

‘They are anachronistic, homophobic and sexist,’ I replied.  ‘But James Bond himself is a splendid creation and some of the novels tell a terrific yarn.’

The cover of my Folio Society edition of “Goldfinger” is almost parodic

Unfortunately, Goldfinger is my least favourite Bond book so far (I have read, this time round, Casino Royale, Live and Let Die, Moonraker, Diamonds are Forever and From Russia with Love – reviews below).  The narrative is short on drive and tension and the plot makes no sense.  Why, for example, when (no spoilers here) Bond has driven villain Auric Goldfinger to a paroxysm of suspicion, (more…)

4 astonishing facts about “The Third Man”

Have you seen the classic 1949 British thriller The Third Man (links in bold italics are to other posts on this site)?  If not, watch it immediately!  Either way, consider the following nuggets I recently unearthed about possibly the best film of all time.

My review at the link above sets out 8 reasons The Third Man is movie magic.  But did you know:

(i) The Third Man was nearly never made.  In early discussions, producer David O Selznick said a film called “The Third Man” could never be a hit.  You can find out more in Frederick Baker’s 2004 documentary Shadowing the Third Man;

(ii) the classic ending to the movie, which I shall not reveal here, was nearly changed.  Graham Greene, who wrote the screenplay, initially planned for an upbeat final scene with Anna and Holly Martins forming a relationship.  How this could have squared with the rest of the story, which leads inexorably to the magnificent ending as it was eventually released, I have no idea;

(more…)

From Russia with Love: sexist, homophobic cold war time capsule

What if Ian Fleming wrote a James Bond novel in which the hero did not appear until halfway through?

The cover of my Folio Society edition of “From Russia with Love” is by Fay Dalton

Such a book exists.  It is the fifth novel in the series, From Russia with Love, which came out in 1957.  The first ten chapters of the book outline a dastardly Soviet plot to kill Bond.  They take place in Crimea and Moscow within the bureaucracy of SMERSH – an actual organisation created by Stalin in 1943 whose name is an acronym for “SMErt SHpionam” or “death to spies”.

These chapters introduce two of Fleming’s most memorable villains: (more…)

Diamonds are Forever: civil servants and “shills”

A new James Bond movie, No Time to Die, lurches over the horizon.  Will it be any good?

Almost certainly not (links in bold italics are to other posts on this site).

Will it contain bizarre and dated attitudes to women, clothed in feeble nods to political correctness?  Almost certainly.

But I will keep hoping.

Despite the ghastliness of most recent Bond outings, I remain a fan of the original Ian Fleming novels.  I am the proud owner of a growing set of Folio Society editions, and recently read Diamonds are Forever, whose illustrations by Fay Dalton evoke the mood of the book:

The story moves at a leisurely pace.  Bond does not take the menace of US gangsters seriously, and attempts a relationship with the magnificent but damaged Tiffany Case before a satisfying resolution on board a transatlantic liner.  Like many in the series, it contains a good deal of language which by today’s standards is racist, homophobic and misogynistic.  I tend to feel that such texts should not put a book out of bounds for today’s audiences, even if they make a modern reader cringe: they are a reminder of how far we have come.  But many readers may feel differently.

Diamonds are Forever also contains some splendid set-piece descriptions, for example of the “Acme Mud and Sulphur Baths” or of US horse-racing at Saratoga, which are reminiscent of the descriptions of fox-hunting and cross-country horse racing which appear regularly in Trollope. (more…)

A distinguished cafe off the beaten track: Cafe Eiles

An Austrian friend of mine was reading my Great Vienna cafe reviews recently (links in bold italics are to other posts on this site).

My friend commented: But my favorite coffee house you did not even name.  It is the Café EILES… Friendly staff, great environment, good coffee. And all the essential papers. And they do leave you alone, this is priceless. All the other coffee places I visit several times a month waiters become friendly and ask you things or even worse they involve you into their own problems, just because I am very friendly and leave good tips… 

The Eiles is spacious, in the tradition of the grand old Viennese cafes

There is much wisdom in these comments:

(i) friendly staff: I have often written about the grumpiness and mixed quality of waiters in Vienna and in Germany.  As someone said to me the other day, “you don’t go to the classic cafes for good coffee or good service – you go for the entire cafe experience”.  Most perceptive.  But the service in the Eiles is good; (more…)

7 reasons to like the Strandbar Herrmann

In the city, the heat is oppressive.  Yet the evening, in a deck chair under a beach umbrella, is cool.  The beer in my hand is icy.  All around me, hundreds of people are upending a beer or slurping a cocktail.  Open water glistens nearby.  What could be better than this?

The Strandbar Herrmann is a regular haunt of mine; is a unique spot in the centre of Vienna; and has charm.  So here is a review.

Strandbar Herrmann – the Urania is the domed building in the background

Seven great things about the Strandbar Herrmann:

(i) it is close to town.  Vienna has tons of outstanding beach bars next to the Danube, many of which I recommend, but which are a train- or bike-ride out of town.  Herrmann is on the Danube Canal, which loops round from the river towards the city.  You can walk there from the town centre in 15-25 minutes;

(ii) it’s big and bustling.  OK, so I love the Kleines Cafe (click to see all my Vienna cafe reviews – links in bold italics are to other posts on this site).  But when you’re having a cooling drink out of doors, a hum of contented (more…)

14 Plums of Wodehouse

What is the funniest book by “Plum” Wodehouse?

I have so far read 14 of the 20 P G Wodehouse Jeeves and Wooster and Blandings Castle volumes of my father’s splendid Folio Society collection (links in bold italics are to other posts on this blog).  What joy these books have brought to the world!

But greater experts than I, such as the fabulous fellow WordPress blogger Plumtopia, who specialises in the works of P G Wodehouse, have pointed out that there is much more to “Plum” than Jeeves and Wooster and Blandings, splendid as they are.

So I was delighted to discover recently another Folio Society edition, The Plums of P G Wodehouse.  

My Folio Society edition of “The Plums of P.G. Wodehouse” (more…)

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