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James Bond: The Spectre of a Boozehound

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007 is many things – a near superhero, seemingly unafraid of death or anything else; a relentless womanizer, though occasionally heartbroken; and, of course, an inveterate boozer. One part connoisseur, one part super-functional alcoholic, there was a time when he appeared to never let the opportunity pass to show off his knowledge of all types of fermented beverages.

As of this writing, just a week before the worldwide release of the 24th canonical James Bond film on November 6, we don’t know for sure what JB will be imbibing in his newest adventure, although reports of an olive brine-infused dirty martini made with Belvedere Vodka have been circulating. We can tell you that, while a couple of true loves have come and gone through James Bond’s world over six decades of novels and films, his deep and intense relationship with booze is likely to remain eternal. What follows is a brief education on Mr. Bond and his deeply committed relationship with demon alcohol.

Shaken, not stirred

Ask any cocktail snob and they will tell you that, generally speaking, cocktails that do not feature fruit juices should be stirred, not shaken. Shaking is said to harm the taste of gin and “cloud” drinks  of all types with ice crystals, making them a tad less pretty. James Bond’s creator, Ian Fleming – a snob of the highest order but not exactly a cocktail snob in the modern sense – simply detested stirred drinks and wanted them all shaken, all the time. So, when Bond ordered a martini, it was always shaken and never stirred. Personally, we think he’s wrong about gin martinis but right about vodka martinis.

The 21st century Bond derided the shaken/stirred controversy in the funniest line in 2006’s“Casino Royale” (“Do I look like I give a damn?” said a thoroughly stressed out 007 to a clueless barman.) He does, however, look on admiringly watching a shaken martini being made in 2012’s “Skyfall.”

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Drink of the Week: The Countess Tracy (TCM Fest Salute #3)

The Countess Tracy.If you head over to Bullz-Eye’s James Bond Fan Hub, you may notice that the writer behind the painfully in-depth explorations of the Sean Connery 007 films is the same guy bringing you these beverage recipes week after week. So, of course, when I attended this year’s TCM Fest, I was going to make it a priority to finally check out the 2012 restored version of “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” on the big screen.

Though originally regarded as something of a disappointment largely due to the replacement of Connery by George Lazenby, an unknown whose performance remains controversial (I’m not a huge fan), there is a small but growing community who argue it’s the best film in the entire series. My position is that it’s pretty great and very likely would have topped even “Goldfinger,” if only Connery had, in fact starred opposite the film’s actual leading lady, Diana Rigg, who very definitely is the greatest of all Bond girls.

Lazenby aside, OHMSS remains a mighty entertaining piece of work and by far the most faithful to any of the 007 novels, a most romantic and strangely melancholy tale for all its Bondian absurdity. (For more background information, feel free to check out my brother in Bondage Ross Ruediger’s fine ONHMSS exploration for Bullz-Eye.)

Today’s drink is devoted to easily the most complex and affecting leading lady in the Bond cannon so far. Teresa Draco, later the Contessa Teresa di Vicenzo, and ultimately simply Tracy Bond. Especially as played by Diana Rigg, Tracy is no mere Bond girl. No, for all her girlish beauty, she’s really a full-fledged Bond woman who is more than capable of saving a superspy’s life after he saves her from death by suicide in the film’s opening.

My liquid take on OHMSS and Tracy Bond is an homage and update to the Vesper, Ian Fleming and bartender Ivar Bryce’s tribute to the first of Bond’s lost loves from “Casino Royale.” And, yes, the Countess Tracy features bourbon, not gin. In the novels, Bond drank it probably more than anything else, and that meant he drank an awful lot of it.

The Countess Tracy

1 1/2 ounces Basil Hayden’s Bourbon
1/2 ounce Campari
1/2 ounce Lillet Blanc
1/2 ounce Smirnoff 100 proof vodka
1 orange twist (desirable garnish)

Combine all the liquid ingredients in a cocktail shaker with plenty of ice and, yes, shake this drink vigorously and never, ever, stir it. Ian Fleming hated ALL stirred drinks and his smirky, snobbish ghost will haunt you forever should you ever consider stirring any drink remotely related to him.

Anyhow, once you’re done shaking your drink as if being chased by the nefarious twosome of Ernst Stavro Blofeld and Irma Bunt, strain it into a chilled cocktail glass (coupe or standard martini style). Add the orange twist and toast Diana Rigg. The adorable and entirely first-rate actress who played Tracy and also, of course, the greatest of all filmic female superspies, Emma Peel.

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I selected Basil Hayden’s bourbon because A. I had it in the house and B. It’s a damned fine bourbon of which I’m sure Bond and Fleming would have approved. Though named for an 18th century distiller, the brand wasn’t introduced until about three decades after Fleming’s untimely death. It was nevertheless featured, I understand, in the 2011 James Bond novel by Jeffery Deaver, Carte Blanche.

My selection of Campari was directly inspired by the choice of beverage of Tracy’s beloved father, benevolent criminal mastermind Marc-Ange Draco. In the movie (and the book, if memory serves), he drinks the very sweet/extremely bitter liqueur straight while serving Bond one of his shaken martinis.

Finally, the Lillet Blanc and the 100 proof vodka are pretty obviously ripped off from my explorations of the Vesper. I believe David Wondrich assumed the original Vesper used 100 proof Stolichnaya. I used Smirnoff because, well, it was in front of me. Today’s Lillet is apparently a fairly far cry from the Kina Lillet of Fleming’s day, and is one of the many reasons a modern-day Vesper needs to be modified a great deal to work properly. However, Lillet Blanc is a very lovely product in its own right, and it adds needed sweetness and light to the Countess Tracy.

As for the drink as a whole, I think I did good this time. It’s a bittersweet and very tasty tribute to the only woman, save Moneypenny, James Bond ever truly loved. Like Tracy, it’s refreshing and bold, with more than a hint of darkness. It’s a drink for which, you might say, I have all the time in the world.

  

The Light from the TV Shows: Chatting with Lara Pulver about ‘Fleming,’ ‘Da Vinci’s Demons,’ and more

Lara Pulver made her first TV appearance in 2009, but she’s quickly racked up a list of credits that’d impress just about any TV viewer, including roles on Robin Hood, True Blood, MI-5, Sherlock, Skins, and Da Vinci’s Demons. In addition to popping up briefly in the current run of Sherlock and returning to Da Vinci’s Demons for its upcoming sophomore season, Pulver can also be found in BBC America’s new limited-series event, Fleming, playing Ann Charteris, the woman who – 62-year-old spoiler alert! – eventually went on to be Mrs. Ian Fleming. Bullz-Eye was fortunate enough to chat with Pulver at the Television Critics Association winter press tour in Pasadena, and we asked her about all of the aforementioned small-screen roles while also touching on her film work with Idris Elba, Michael Sheen, and Tom Cruise.

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Bullz-Eye: So how much did you know about Ian Fleming’s life before you signed on to this project?

Lara Pulver: As a Brit, I knew his novels, I knew he was behind the Bond franchise, but I knew nothing about the man.

BE: How surprised were you to learn about him?

LP: I found him fascinating. Like, from a psychoanalytic point of view. His relationship with his mom, the depressive arrogance, his ego when it came to women, his failure as a man when it came to finding an occupation, finding his niche in life… And yet he never really lived long enough to find out the true success of what we now celebrate as 50 years of Bond as a franchise. So I found it fascinating.

BE: Were you a Bond fan going in?

LP: It’s definitely in British arts and culture history. It’s on TV at Christmas. There’s always a Bond movie. And it’s quite fascinating how they’ve been able to reinvent to make it so current 50 years on.

BE: Were you familiar enough with the franchise to recognize the bits and pieces of it that turned up in his real life?

LP: Yeah, and it’s also so interesting, having done Fleming, to see a Bond movie now. That’s even more interesting.

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007 One by One: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

Bullz-Eye continues its look back at every James Bond film, 007 One by One, as part of our James Bond Fan Hub that we’ve created to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first Bond film.

You’ve seen “Skyfall,” now how about taking a look at the other best James Bond movie you’ve never seen?

Ask a hardcore Bond aficionado what his favorite 007 entry is, and there’s a very good chance the answer will be “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.”

We don’t necessarily want to make bold claims as to what the best Bond movie is, as it differs from person to person, but “Majesty’s” should be Top Five material for any die-hard fan of the franchise. The film is littered with all kinds of “firsts” and “onlys” — both in front of and behind the camera — but the most obvious is of course its lead, George Lazenby, and it’s with Lazenby that, for better or worse, most talk of the film begins (but should by no means end).

In the year 2013, we take for granted the changing of the lead actor within the Bond series, as we’ve now had a half a dozen different 007s, but back in the late sixties there was only one James Bond, and his name was Sean Connery. During the production of “You Only Live Twice,” Connery decided to exit the franchise that made him a household name (though as we now know today, he’d return to the character not once, but twice), however, quite understandably, the producers of the series weren’t finished telling their stories, and the public seemed far from tired of 007’s adventures.

So there was really only one option and that was to recast. The search was extensive, but in the end Bond producers decided on a complete unknown – Lazenby – a model with virtually zero acting experience. Regardless, Albert Broccoli was certain he could transform the man into his new James Bond.

The debate has raged for over 40 years as to whether or not the recasting was successful, with many schools of thought on the matter. Having viewed “Majesty’s” numerous times, we feel confident in saying that it’s a shame Lazenby didn’t give it at least one more go in the part (the decision to not return was, amazingly, his own), because as it stands, he cannot help but be somewhat swallowed up by the richness of his surroundings. One thing is for certain: Lazenby in no way ruins it, or keeps “Majesty’s” from being the best film it can be. “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” is a fine, fine movie, and one that deserves to stand on its own, away from the greater picture of the whole franchise, and Lazenby – as any lead would be – is at least partly responsible for its artistic success.

The Plot: “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” relies heavily on Ian Fleming’s original text, the last Bond film to really do so until 2006’s “Casino Royale.” The story is two in one: the first is about Bond’s hunting for and eventual finding of Ernst Stavro Blofeld, and the second is about Bond falling in love and getting married (yes, you read that right) to an initially suicidal young woman named Tracy. Her father, Draco, runs a crime syndicate, and has info about Blofeld’s whereabouts, which James requires. Turns out Blofeld is posing as a high-profile allergist in Switzerland. Bond tracks him there, and infiltrates his organization by posing as a genealogist. Once the jig is up, all hell breaks loose, and Bond finds himself on the run, and only one person can help him…

The Girls: Blofeld’s mountaintop Swiss hideaway, Piz Gloria, stockpiles quite the cache of babe-alicious flesh – including a very young Joanna Lumley (“Absolutely Fabulous”) as well as the lovely Catherine Schell (“The Return of the Pink Panther”). Odd then that James zeroes in on the homeliest looking one of the bunch, Ruby Bartlett (Angela Scoular). But then again, this is also that unique Bond flick wherein James falls in love, and perhaps going for runt of the litter was the only way for him to rationalize cheating on his beloved Tracy.

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Yes, the only real Bond girl in “Majesty’s” is Contessa Teresa di Vicenzo –Tracy for short — played by Emma Peel herself, Diana Rigg. If James Bond is going to fall in love, it had damn well better be someone like Diana Rigg. One can picture producers Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman sitting around saying variations on, “We need to get someone like Diana Rigg for the part”…until finally realizing they’d better just get Diana Rigg. Tracy steals Bond’s heart in the film’s first 45 minutes and then disappears for the next hour, only to come out of nowhere and heroically rescues James from his predicament high up in the Swiss Alps, at which point he realizes that she’s “the one.” When she finally “Peels” out, it’s the moment every “Avengers” fan has waited for the entire film. [SPOILER ALERT] And when she’s murdered moments after trading “I do’s” with 007, it’s heartbreaking to see James cradle her lifeless body in his arms. One wonders what kind of shock this must have been for fans back in 1969.

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The Nemeses: Of the three major Blofelds to appear onscreen in the official franchise, Telly Savalas (like the rest of the movie) is often forgotten. He’s also the only one of the three to deliver a remotely realistic performance, which may be part of the reason he doesn’t resonate in the public consciousness. We like our villains larger than life, do we not? His look is not as iconic as Donald Pleasance, nor is his portrayal as camp as Charles Gray. Yet what he brings to Ernst is cold and calculating — the true essence of villainy. His plan is not to blow up the world, but to hypnotize his 12 patients into releasing a bacterial agent into the world’s agricultural supply unless he’s given amnesty for his past crimes. This makes something of a nice change from holding the world hostage for one-meellion dollars.

Blofeld’s biggest blunder here is his initial inability to recognize Bond. Yes, Bond has a new face — but Bond recognizes Blofeld, even though he too has a new face. Neither is supposed to have a new face within the storyline itself, though it’s stated that Blofeld has had some minor plastic surgery done to his earlobes (of all things). The conundrum is actually a result of adhering so closely to the original novel, which preceded the novel of “You Only Live Twice” – an order which was flipped in the film series. Come “Diamonds are Forever,” the whole “getting a new face” thing is weaved into the plot, yet they can both recognize one another, despite one having a new face and the other having gone back to his old face.

Blofeld isn’t the movie’s only villain. His henchwoman, Irma Bunt (Ilse Steppat), is a nasty piece of work, and possibly a thinly veiled lesbian caricature, though that assertion could and should be debated. She owes a lot to Lotte Lenya’s Rosa Klebb in “From Russia with Love,” but lacks her jolly sense of humor. And she pulls the trigger that kills Tracy. What a bitch.

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The Gadgets: It was a conscious move on the part of director Peter R. Hunt to move away from the gadgets in this film, so they are few. Early in the picture Q shows off to M something he calls radioactive lint, but it’s never used as part of the plot. The only real gadget Bond uses in this film is a cumbersome dual safecracker/photocopier. The former aspect of the gimmick remains cool even today. While the latter is extremely mundane by today’s standards, the fact that it’s packaged with a safecracker keeps it vaguely cool.

The Cars: The Aston Martin DBS – different than the iconic DB5 from “Goldfinger” – features as Bond’s new car in this movie. Tracy’s ride, a red Mercury Cougar XR7 Convertible, sees far more action in the movie than Bond’s Aston Martin, by playing a big part on the film’s third act. Blofeld’s henchmen chase Bond and Tracy in a Mercedes 220S, while their boss, alongside Irma Bunt, drives a silver Mercedes-Benz 600 in the final moments of the film. Draco drives a 1968 Rolls Royce Silver Shadow Convertible.

The Music: Since “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” was quite the mouthful, John Barry opted to compose an instrumental piece for the opening credits, and it’s a rousing bit of work. More famous than the title tune, however, is “We Have All the Time in the World,” sung by Louis Armstrong, and written by Barry with Hal David behind the lyrics. This little ditty, which plays over several scenes, may as well be called “James and Tracy’s Love Theme.” It would be the last piece of music Armstrong recorded, as he passed on soon afterwards, and it has gone on to have quite the life outside of the Bond film series, including as a popular choice of song to play at weddings (presumably only by couples who have not seen this film).

Final Musings: “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” isn’t perfect, and in fact has one major flaw: For the lengthy stretch in which Bond infiltrates Blofeld’s lair, pretending to be Sir Hilary Bray, the decision was made to dub Lazenby’s voice with George Baker’s (the actor who played Bray earlier in the movie). We’ll never know what voice Lazenby used for all those scenes (Bond is, in fact, at his most talkative for this section of the movie), so we must assume that it was felt to not be up to par. The dubbing is painfully obvious, though if you’re as big a fan of this movie as we are, you’ll learn to overlook it.

Beyond that most bizarre of artistic decisions, the rest is about as ideal as a Bond movie can be. The cinematography from Michael Reed is exceptional and the direction from Peter Hunt precise. Much of the film takes place in the wintry world of Switzerland, and you’ll not find snow and ski scenes that are done this well in any other Bond picture. The final hour is packed with one inventive action sequence after another, culminating in an avalanche which swallows up Bond and his bride to be. Even later, Bond goes after Blofeld in an intense bobsled chase.

Then there’s the tragic love story, which itself makes the movie a unique, important entry in the James Bond series – a helpful key to understanding the central character (there would be numerous references to Bond’s ill-fated marriage in later films). Further, its story is imperative to the ongoing tale of Bond vs. Blofeld that was carefully woven throughout the ‘60s. “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” is one for the books. This isn’t your manly Connery of the ‘60s, your wisecracking Moore of the ‘70s & ‘80s, or your paint-by-numbers Brosnan of the ‘90s. The film almost exists in its own near-perfect little bubble, though from an emotional standpoint, it’s precisely the sort of fare the Daniel Craig movies are made of today, 40 some-odd years after its creation.

Stray Bullets:

The Bond family motto is revealed here to be “The World Is Not Enough,” which would years later be used as the title of Pierce Brosnan’s third James Bond outing.

The only movie in which Bond wears a kilt.

Bond doesn’t just read, but practically studies an issue of Playboy in one scene, including the centerfold.

Brigitte Bardot was the actress the Bond producers originally wanted for the part of Tracy.

In an effort to stress to viewers that these were the continuing adventures of the same man, the title sequence largely consists of a montage of clips from the previous Bond films.

In one scene, a midget janitor whistles the theme to “Goldfinger.”

Early in the film, during a sequence in which Bond threatens to resign from his job, we, for the first and currently only time in the series, sees Bond’s office. He roots through his desk, sifting through various bits of nostalgia from all the previous Bond movies.

The first film in which Bond skis.

The only Bond film directed by Peter Hunt, who’d worked on all the previous Bond films in various capacities. Unfortunately, he never worked on another Bond film after this one, in any capacity.

  

Drink of the Week: The Vesper

The VesperThis was the recipe I’d always planned to do right around now. By “now,” I originally meant before the release of the first James Bond movie in several years and/or right around the 50th anniversary of the 007 film series. Even so, I managed to miss the fact that the opening weekend of “Skyfall” was last weekend and not this weekend, so we’re a bit late.

This despite the fact that I and my Bullz-Eye compatriots have spent — and are spending — a fair amount of time actually writing up the Bond films for this very blog. (Check out the Bondian fan hub here.) Fortunately, the movie is turning out to be the most successful film in the uber-franchise in a long while — how long probably depends on whether you bother to adjust for inflation — so it’s going to be around awhile. That means the Bond celebration will also continue.

The Vesper, I should say, is a tricky and ironic drink among late period cocktail classics. Since it debuted in the very first James Bond novel,1953’s Casino Royale, and was created for 007 author Ian Fleming by his friend, Ivar Bryce, a fellow real-life spy, the supercool authenticity factor is off the charts. The scene in the 2006 film version where Bond finally orders the drink some 53 years after it was first invented was a special treat for diehard spy fans and cocktail lovers, and I’m both.

The downside here is that there are issues relating to the ever formulating changes in booze brands that has made the idea of the Vesper a bit more enthralling than the actual drink usually is. We’ll get to those, and a bit more history, after the very, very strong recipe below.

First, however, a word to wise boozer. If you drink a whole Vesper, you really should be done for the night. Mere mortals should not drink like functioning dipsomaniac superspies. You may want to consider cutting the portions here in half or pouring this drink into two glasses for you and a friend.

The Vesper

3 ounces gin (90 proof or above)
1 ounce vodka (100 proof or close, probably)
1/2 ounce Lillet Blanc
1-2 dashes Angostura bitters
1 lemon twist (garnish)

Combine your ingredients in cocktail shaker with a sufficiency of ice. Though heretical cocktail snobs will tell you to stir, this is an Ian Fleming cocktail and Mr. Fleming would certainly have you shake the drink. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass or, if you really want to be classical, do as Bond asked the barman in the novel and serve it in a deep champagne goblet. Add your lemon twist, sip and surrender your car keys to the nearest trustworthy soul. Watch out for double agents.

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In the scene in the novel (included in the wiki I linked to above), CIA agent Felix Leiter expresses some skepticism about the as-yet unnamed Vesper, which Bond later names for the first of his two true loves, Vesper Lynd. It is a very big drink and not for pikers. It also a drink that, as cocktail historian David Wondrich and many others have admitted, hasn’t aged terribly well for a number of reasons.

First of all, all the ingredients have changed. Bond specifically requests Gordon’s Gin. Though it’s no longer considered on the high-end of the gin scale, I actually quite like today’s value-priced Gordon’s, but the flavor of today’s version can’t be the same as was back in ’53. Gordon’s is now only 80 proof. Back then, it was a higher proof and most, Wondrich included, now suggest using Tanqueray. This time around, I used the similarly high proof Beefeater, which seemed a bit more classical.

As for vodka, Wondrich and others seem to assume it would have been 100 proof. At $26.00 a bottle, I’m simply too cheap to buy 100 Stolichnaya, so I went with the $16.00 100 proof Smirnoff. I’ve never really been sold on Stoli and I doubt Bond or Mr. Fleming would have drunk a communist vodka.

Moving down the list of ingredients, I love Lillet Blanc. In fact, maybe my favorite thing about the Vesper is that it introduced me to this intriguing aperitif wine and occasional cocktail ingredient; it tastes like dry vermouth and sweet vermouth made love and birthed an independent-minded female child. However, it also apparently isn’t what it once was. Mr. Bond’s original recipe calls for the now long-gone Kina Lillet, which we are told had a bit more quinine than the present day Lillet Blanc.

That leads us to the use of the bitters, which are an attempt — some would argue a rather lame attempt — to compensate for the low level of quinine. Folks with more time and money than I have been known to actually purchase quinine powder. Since I’m not fighting a case of malaria right now, I chose not to.

So, what do I think of the Vesper? I’ve made this drink probably 10 times over the years and ordered it a few times in bars and, with a couple of exceptions, I’ve been disappointed in the taste while always enjoying the effect. A regular martini, either of the gin or vodka variety, will usually go down more pleasantly. Even so, if you want to drink the one drink that James Bond created on the spot, well, you’ve got no other choice. You’ll drink it and, by the time you’ve finished all that booze, you’ll like it.

In any case, it’s only human to want to try the drink James Bond made up.

  

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