Best of Bond

Ian Fleming's 007 is often most memorable when he's most offensive.


Emily Jenkins
May 1, 2000 8:00PM (UTC)

Some of James Bond's better moments are his worst. That is, he's at his most memorable -- providing that pleasant shiver that comes with scandal -- when Ian Fleming is objectifying women or demonizing nonwhites and people with nonnormative bodies. For example, "Doctor No" begins with a thrilling scene in which a representative of the British Secret Service is murdered by three "Chinese Negros" pretending to be blind men. As the agent puts a coin into their beggars' cup, they say "Bless You, Master," then shoot him from behind: "one between the shoulders, one in the small of the back, and one at the pelvis." They shove him in a hearse, remove their blind-man sunglasses, don top hats and drive away with their arms crossed respectfully over their hearts. Racist, ugly, violent and possibly offensive to blind people as well, but just the sort of thing to make an adolescent -- all right, let's face it, your average grown-up; OK, honestly, me -- chuckle, "Heh heh heh. That's pretty cool."

Here are five of my favorite Fleming Bondian moments that don't involve anyone's degradation -- unless you care about the giant squid.

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Most frightening

From "You Only Live Twice"

Infiltrating the castle of evil Doctor Shatterhand, whose garden of poisonous plants is legendary, Bond hides behind a tree when he hears a noise: "The distant crashing in the shrubbery sounded like a wounded animal, but then, down the path, came staggering a man, or what had once been a man. The brilliant moonlight showed a head swollen to the size of a football [soccer ball], and only small slits remained where the eyes and mouth had been. The man moaned softly as he zigzagged along, and Bond could see that his hands were up to his puffed face and that he was trying to prise apart the swollen skin around his eyes so that he could see out. Every now and then he stopped and let out one word in an agonizing howl to the moon. It was not a howl of fear or of pain, but of dreadful supplication. Suddenly he stopped. He seemed to see the lake for the first time. With a terrible cry, and holding out his arms as if to meet a loved one, he made a quick run to the edge and threw himself in." The lake is stocked with piranhas, which make short work of the victim.

Most poetic

From "Thunderball"

After being hunted by a hungry barracuda while spying on Emilio Largo's SPECTRE-owned ship, Bond is actually rescued by the animal when it eats a big bite out of his human opponent. Enemies begin throwing grenades into the water, and as he swims out of their range, Bond witnesses the fate of his antagonist: "Wild commotion at the edge of his field of vision shocked him out of the semi-trance. A giant fish, the barracuda, was passing him. It seemed to have gone mad. It was snaking wildly along, biting at its tail, its long body curling and snapping back in a jack-knife motion, its mouth opening wide and shutting again in spasms. Bond watched it hurtle away into the grey mist. He felt somehow sorry to see the wonderful king of the sea reduced to this hideous jiggling automaton. There was something obscene about it, like the blind weaving of a punchy boxer before he finally crashes to the canvas. One of the explosions must have crushed a nerve centre, wrecked some delicate balance mechanism in the fish's brain. It wouldn't last long. A greater predator than itself, a shark, would note the signs, the loss of symmetry that is suicide in the sea."

Most surreal

From "On Her Majesty's Secret Service"

After an erotic encounter with a female allergy patient at the nefarious Blofeld's Alpine clinic, Bond is drifting toward sleep in her bed when a bell chimes and a metronome begins to tick. A hypnotic voice intones, "Your bed is as soft and downy as a nest. You are as soft and sleepy as a chicken in a nest. A dear little chicken, fluffy and cuddly ... You love them dearly, dearly, dearly. You love all chickens. You would like to make pets of them all. You would like them to grow up beautiful and strong. You would like no harm to come to them ... Soon you will be able to help all the chickens of England ... You will say nothing of your methods. They will be your own secret, your very own secret."

Coolest gadgets

From "From Russia With Love"

Searching for Rosa Klebb, head of SMERSH, Bond opens her hotel door to find a little old woman instead. "She looked so exactly like the sort of respectable rich widow one would expect to find sitting by herself in the Ritz, whiling the time away with her knitting. The sort of woman who would have her own table, and her favourite waiter, in a corner of the restaurant downstairs -- not, of course, in the grill room." He sweats, examines her sensible shoes and old-fashioned dress, speaks to her politely -- until he notices her nicotine-stained mustache. "Nicotine? Where were her cigarettes? There was no ashtray -- no smell of smoke in the room." He accuses her, and she attacks him with the telephone -- actually a gun -- and with her knitting needles, aiming at his legs with German nerve poison. Bond loses.

Best villain

From "Doctor No"

Doctor No has put Bond through an obstacle course designed to test his capacity for pain, then kill him. At the end of it, Bond plummets into an enclosed bit of bay, and quickly scrambles out of the water onto a wire fence. "Below him the water quivered. Something was stirring in the depths, something huge. A great length of luminescent greyness showed, poised far down in the darkness. Something snaked up from it, a whiplash as thick as Bond's arm. The tip of the thong was swollen to a narrow oval, with regular budlike markings. It swirled through the water where the fish had been and was withdrawn. Now there was nothing but the huge grey shadow. What was it doing? Was it ...? Was it tasting the blood? As if in answer, two eyes as big as footballs slowly swam up and into Bond's vision. They stopped, twenty feet below his own, and stared up through the quiet water at his face ... So this was the giant squid, the mythical kraken that could pull ships beneath the waves, the fifty-foot-long monster that battled with whales, that weighed a ton or more." Bond finally makes it back off by poking its eye out with a wire spear he has been carrying down his pant leg, but not before getting a series of tentacle marks suckered across his stomach.


Emily Jenkins

Emily Jenkins is the author of "Tongue First," "Five Creatures," and a forthcoming novel: "Mister Posterior and the Genius Child."

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