Friday, November 22, 2013

Spymaker: The Secret Life of Ian Fleming [1990]

On today's agenda: the 1990 television film Spymaker: The Secret Life of Ian Fleming, which was the second such biopic in as many years.  The Internet seems to be lacking when it comes to details on the film's production, place of initial airing, and so forth.  From what I recall, I saw the movie on TNT -- under the title The Secret Life of Ian Fleming (no Spymaker in evidence) -- and since the back of the DVD claims it was a TNT Original, I suppose that clears up at least that much of the origins.


Here is a vintage VHS cover.  Note the busty Bond-girl-esque figure on the left.


Here is the cover art for the Warner Archives DVD release.  You will note that the busty Bond-girl-esque figure has gone missing, which is, one supposes, the difference between 1990 and 2013.


I'd like to draw your attention to the way Spymaker is being sold in that artwork.  "All the excitement of a Bond movie," claims the blurb on the back of the DVD.  "CONNERY," trumpets the front.  (I especially enjoy how much smaller the word "Jason" is than "Connery."  I choose to read that as "Jason CONNERY," for the record. It's fun.  Try it at home!)

I mention this as a means of illustrating a point: in terms of its marketing, if not in terms of the actual content of the film, Spymaker was sold as a quasi-Bond film.  It comes close to outright pandering.

We're going to do this the same way we did the 1989 biopic Goldeneye, i.e., I'm going to offer up a plot summary with extensive screencaps, and then hastily score the film on the Double-0 Rating system, just for a larf.  Because I won't be forgetting that blurb; "all the excitement of a Bond movie," it promises.

We shall see.


And now: the plot summary.
 
A young boy -- Ian Fleming -- is playing in his room, with a figure of Saint George, who (of course) slays a dragon and rescues a damsel in distress.  Ian is interrupted by a nanny, who takes the boy to see his mother, Lady Evelyn Fleming, while she is having a portrait of herself painted.  Ian stutters, and is unable to say the word "mother."  (His stutter merely produces the sound "m . . . m . . . m . . ." over and over, and while Spymaker makes nothing of this, I cannot help but think of the scene in Goldeneye in which Fleming tells Ivar Bryce that he called his mother "M" for short.)




Patricia Hodge as Lady Evelyn Fleming


Lady Evelyn informs Ian that she has decided he should be sent away to school.  We cut to another scene of Fleming playing with the figure of Saint George.  This time, he is a considerably older chap, racing good old George along the battlefield of a woman's flesh, up to and including her naked breasts.



(Now, lest you think I am merely being lascivious and posting a naughty photo merely for the sake of posting a naughty photo -- which I, admittedly, sort of am -- let me counter by saying that I was shocked to see a breast in this movie.  Shocked, I say!  I don't remember seeing any nudity when this movie was first aired on TNT, which causes me to suspect that the DVD release must consist of an alternative cut of the film.  Spymaker was evidently shown theatrically in some European markets.  Perhaps this is that cut?)

Fleming is making time with some young lady at school, and has a friend stationed outside in the freezing cold to alert him if a professor shows up, which, of course, he does.  It isn't clear whether the girl is related to the professor, or if this is merely a general-purpose anti-sex operation on the professor's part.  In any case, Fleming's friend -- Quincy -- has rigged up a bell of some sort, which he operates via remote control and will ring if the professor arrives.  The contraption fails, and Quincy is apologetic afterward.  In case the subtlety is lost on you, this is meant to parallel a Bond/Q sort of situation.  (His name is Quincy.  Get it?  "Quincy"?  With a "Q"?  Get it?)


Jason Connery as Ian Fleming (l); Julian Firth as Quincy (r)

In voiceover, we hear Lady Evelyn castgating Ian via letter for shaming the family.  She has deicded that he will now attend Sandhurst Military Academy.  There, the commanding officer tells Ian that the school does not ordinarily accept Eton's rejects; Fleming is there only because of his family's influence.  No sooner is this umbrage delivered than the General's wife strolls in; she gives Fleming the eye, and one suspects that sexual congress is imminent.




Fiona Fullerton as Lady Caroline
  
  
Sure enough, Lady Caroline -- played by Fiona Fullerton, whom Bond fans might remember as Pola Ivanova in A View to a Kill -- calls the lad over to help move some books, and the two begin smooching; the General comes home and discovers them, and the next thing you know, Lady Evelyn is writing another letter on the subject of Ian shaming the family.

This time, she has decided Ian shall join Reuters.  There, the editor tells him that he has been hired only as a favor to Lady Evelyn, and he doesn't seem too thrilled with the arrangement.  Ian thanks him for his honesty, and gets to work.


 
Fleming has a bit of an ally in Miss Delaney, who is SO clearly a Moneypenny stand-in that there is a scene in which she takes Fleming's hat and flings it onto a coat rack.  (Goldeneye also couldn't help but have a similar scene, and one wonders if either film's screenwriters cared that that was an invention of the Bond films, and therefore not actually a tribute to Fleming himself.  I say that being uncertain that the novels do not contain a hat-flinging scene; I do not think they do, but honesty compels me to admit that I am not 100% positive.  Miss Delaney, by the way, is played by Marsha Fitzalan, who played Loelia in Goldeneye a year earlier, and is therefore a bit of a titan when it comes to Ian Fleming biopics.)


Marsha Fitzalen as Miss Delaney


Fleming seems to take to the Reuters job, and before long he is assigned to go to Moscow to help cover the trial of a team of British engineers accused of sabotage.



Next thing you know, Fleming is on a train bound for Moscow.  He (introducing himself as "Fleming . . . Ian Fleming") meets Gallina, a Soviet woman who passively/aggressively claims to be a Princess of the former regime; she (presumably) takes him to bed and cautions him to be careful what he writes.  As they kiss, Fleming surprisedly notes that her lips are cold; "make them warm," she challenges him.
  
At the trial, the engineers plead innocent; all, that is, except one, who pleads guilty.  Fleming spots a crying woman being help by two black-trenchcoated men just outside the courtroom, seemingly within sight of the man who has plead guilty.  Putting two and two together, he surmises that the man must be the victim of blackmail.  He follows the men with the woman, and discovers her being kept in some sort of safehouse, an apparent prisoner.  Questioning her, he finds that she is the British man's fiancee, and that, sure enough, her safety has been threatened in order to gain his guilty plea.

Fleming tries to file a story saying as much, but becomes a target of the Secret Police.  He flees, delivering the story to a fellow reporter for safekeeping and delivery to the West, and then calls on Gallina for help.  But, in a positively Vesper Lynd-ian turn of affairs, she has been working for the Secret Police all along!  She calls them to her apartment, and Fleming narrowly escapes their clutches.  He goes to a train station, but it is being monitored by the police, so he resorts to hanging from the bottom of the train as it takes off.  The music by Carl Davis tells us that this is perhaps the single most dramatic happening in the entire history of film.

The next day, as the train stops for an emergency oiljob or something, Fleming is discovered and is shot in the chest, then left for dead.  Later, he is discovered by a band of White Russians, who find that the bullet was stopped by the Saint George figurine.  Fleming still carries it in his pocket, and lucky for him!  (By the way, I thought White Russians were only drinks, but evidently I was wrong about that.)




He wakes in a Polish hospital, and is told by a fellow Brit that the engineers were all found guilty, but, thanks to Fleming's story, the judge handed out suspended sentences and sent them all home.  Even the one dude's fiancee!  Happy endings all around, it seems.

Back in London, Fleming returns to Reuters, and is introduced to Leda St. Gabriel, who is visiting him on behalf of the Admiralty.


Kristin Scott Thomas as Leda St. Gabriel

  
She takes him to meet Admiral Godfrey, who orders a drink: a martini, "shaken, not stirred."  Fleming asks for the same; I roll my eyes.


David Warner as Admiral Godfrey

  
Godfrey wants Fleming's impressions of what he saw in Russia, and also wants to make it clear than when -- when, not "if" -- war comes, he will be expected to serve the Admiralty in extra-ordinary fashion.  Fleming gives his impressions of Russia, and ends it by cautioning that a woman with cold lips is to be avoided at all costs.  He seems both delighted and exasperated by the idea of becoming a spy, although the duality of the reaction may be more a function of Jason Connery's inadequacy as an actor than of anything actually contained in the screenplay.  Or perhaps it is present in the screenplay but not properly emphasized by Connery; it's a bit difficult to get a read on the scene's intentions, to be honest.

As the meeting ends, Fleming seems about to try to schedule a later appointment of some sort with Leda, but she shoots him down ruthlessly, efficiently.

Back at the Fleming manse, Lady Evelyn informs Ian that he will be leaving his job at Reuters for a better-paying job with a bank.  Fleming agrees, but only reluctantly.  They talk briefly of Ian's father.  "Am I at all like him?" Ian asks.  "Not really," Lady Evelyn replies; "he was a hero, you know."



Lady Evelyn introduces Ian to Daphne, a cousin.  "What brings you here?" Ian asks.  "I brought her here," Lady Evelyn says, and the implication is that this is matchmaking.  Yay, incest!




Cut to a scene of Fleming working at the bank, if by "working" you mean daydreaming and sketching Saint George fighting the dragon during a boardroom meeting.




Back at his flat, Fleming is confronted by Quincy, who expresses amused disapproval of Fleming The Banker.  He recruits Ian to help him test "the Quincy Booster," an apparatus that gives a car a burst of superspeed.  He needs to borrow Fleming's car to test it, and Fleming himself to drive it.  Cut to the two of them racing a ridiculously attractive woman, whom they later take to a swanky casino after winning the race.



At the casino, Fleming plays baccarat with a General Hellstein -- (seriously?!?) -- who is a Nazi and who could not possibly be more obviously a proto-Bond-villain figure.  Hellstein defeats Bond, oops, sorry, Fleming.  Hellstein's female companion makes eyes at Fleming, and is beaten severely later; Fleming finds her, crawling around the hotel with a bloodied back.  Meanwhile, Quincy announces that Hitler has invaded Poland; war is on.


Joss Ackland as General Hellstein


Back at home, Fleming is greeted by Christie, a young woman who has been sent by Admiral Godfrey to fetch Fleming.  Instead, he enlists Christie to cook him some breakfast.  Leda shows up looking for them both, assumes Fleming has been dipping his wick -- which he seemingly has not -- and chastises everyone.  Fleming rebukes her, gets her to join him for coffee.

Leda seems mildly chastened, but says Fleming can hardly blame her for leaping to conclusions; she proceeds to chastise Fleming a bit further, though in somewhat less harsh terms.  "There's no love without friendship," she says.  "Tell me, have you ever made love to a woman who was also your friend?"  This seems to hit a nerve with Fleming.




At the admiralty, Fleming -- rather implausibly -- runs into Miss Delaney, who has been drafted into service as Godfrey's secretary.  He learns that he has been recruited to, essentially, thank outside of the box on behalf of the crown.

Fleming is sent to military training, where he is observed like a hawk by St. Gabriel, whose idea it was to recruit him.  Fleming misinterprets her attentions as romantic affection, and is rebuffed yet again.

Returning to the Admiralty after training, Fleming is asked by Godfrey if there is anyone he would like to recruit; he, of course, brings Quincy into the service.  Then, later, he brings in a trio of prostitutes, whom he wishes to train as intelligence officers and then drop into Nazi-occupied territories to fraternize with the enemy and report their findings.  Godfrey is nonplussed in the extreme, but Leda seems impressed with the idea, and champions it.



In Lisbon, Fleming and St. Gabriel visit a casino, where they once again encounter General Hellstein, whose mistress (a different one than the one beaten bloody earlier, I think) has evidently expressed interest in working as a double agent.  Fleming is to meet with her while Leda snoops through Hellstein's stuff.  First, though, Fleming must engage in a second game of baccarat with Hellstein, whom he defeats quite badly.



Fleming meets with the mistress, and kisses her; but, finding her lips to be cold, he smacks her, reasoning that she is in fact double-crossing him.



  
Leda and Fleming make their escape.  Yay.  This experience has evidently been sufficient to get Leda a little wet (a fact reinforced by the copious rainfall); she kisses Ian passionately outside her flat, and the movie has officially turned the corner into the third act.



Back in Germany, Hellstein is briefed on Fleming -- who, he is told, has turned British intelligence into a efficient organization.  "Now it is his turn to lose," Hellstein says.

One of the prostitutes has completed her training, and Fleming sends her over to begin her duties.  Meanwhile, he has intercepted a coded German comunique and hatches a plan to attack Castle Helmstadt in Norway, which is Hellstein's headquarters.  Quincy has designed a "subaqueous marine transporter" to help them infiltrate this seemingly-impregnanble fortress.



Prior to the mission, Fleming and Leda go bird-watching (will he later give her a copy of the book Birds of the West Indies by James Bond? -- indeed he will), and then go for a tense dinner with Lady Evelyn and (surprise!) Daphne.  The dinner is interrupted by news that Anna the prostitute has been captured by the SS; tortured to death, even.  Bad news, old boy.

The dinner with Lady Evelyn has evidently convinced Leda that there is no future between Ian and herself; they are from two too-different worlds.  Meanwhile, Fleming insists to Godfrey that he be allowed to personally lead the assault on Castle Helmstadt.  He has a vendetta against Hellstein, whom, we learn, was somehow directly responsible for the death-by-torture of the prostitute double agent.  This seems implausible at best, and the movie certainly does nothing to make it seem more plausible.



Prior to leaving on the mission, Ian visits Leda and gives her that copy of Birds of the West Indies, perhaps as a means of subtly indicating that he is about to turn into James Bond, thereby signifying the proto-birth of the character.  Nah; that'd be bullshit.  In any case, this gift is enough to earn Fleming some nooky, which is perhaps a bit more than the average fellow can expect when and if he gives a woman a copy of an ornithological book as a present.  In bed, Leda agrees to marry Ian when he returns from the mission; that must be some powerful cock.

Later, Fleming's team of soldiers surfaces in a water tank that has a matte-painting of a sky behind it so as to make it look like they are in the ocean.  Evidently we are meant to believe this is Norway, so let's play along, shall we?



The soldiers scale the castle in a scene mildly reminiscent of For Your Eyes Only (the movie, not the book), and the assault is underway.  One of the soldiers falls to his death when -- I shit you not -- a German soldier unwittingly flings a pot of hot coffee over the side of the castle.  The coffee was evidently not up to Nazi standards, and had to be gotten rid of, to the detriment of the Royal Navy.

Does the assault offer "all the action of a Bond movie"?  It does not.  It offers a few Nazis who are shot and then roll down hills and flights of stairs and whatnot in their death throes.  A few knives get thrown, and so forth.  Fleming, who has evidently seen Raiders of the Lost Ark, dresses in a downed Nazi's duds and infiltrates the castle.  The musical score seems to think it is a score for a David Lean movie; but Carl Davis is no Maurice Jarre, try though he might.

Fleming has the satisfaction of capturing Hellstein and some archives and whatnot, and they pack the lot up and fly back to England.  On the way, Fleming learns that he was targeted for assassination . . . and that very day!  He intuits that the attack will take place at his flat, and that Leda is in danger, so he radios for her to be warned away from going there.

Alas, it is of no use.  She goes to his flat, finds his Saint George figurine, and plays with it a bit, then is killed in a bomb blast (which happens, conveniently, just as she sees Fleming himself as he comes running into the apartment).  Tragedy!  Blofeld and Irma could not have planned it any better.





In hospital, Fleming hallucinates Leda, only to wake up and learn the truth.  Later, he visits his mother, and gives her a present: the Saint George figurine.  Lady Ethelyn, who is really a bit of a cunt, says she is sorry for "what happened to the girl."  Ian says he plans to write a book; "a fantasy of sorts."  He says he won't ask for a penny.  Lady Ethelyn asks what she should do with the figurine; Fleming just sort of shrugs, although you sense that what he'd like to say is that she may shove it up her arse for all he cares.

And that is that.

So, let's have a look at how this sucker scores.
  
(1)  Bond ... James Bond

Presumably because the producers expected it to stir up publicity and, therefore, interest, Jason Connery -- who, lest you think otherwise, is the son of original Bond actor Sean Connery -- was cast as Ian Fleming.  Theoretically, that fact forms an interesting loop of sorts: Fleming is the "father" of Bond, who was made famous on screen by Sean Connery, who later fathered Jason Connery, who then portrayed the man who was the "father" of his own father's most famous character.

Trouble is that Jason Connery is just not very good in the role.  There are multiple scenes in which it seems to be that the director has directed Connery to speak as infrequently as possible, so that his lack of charisma is obscured as much as possible.

Connery has worked steadily throughout his career, mostly in smallish roles or in fairly low-rent productions.  I say this not to demean the man's career -- after all, he IS a professional actor in his career's fourth decade, which is an admirable goal for anyone -- but simply to note that it seems to never quite been in the cards for Connery Jr. to be a star.  I salute him for making a go of it; he's more successful than I will ever even get close to being, and let's have no confusion on that score.

Nevertheless, the casting of Connery as Fleming is a disaster here.  Comparatively, Charles Dance in Goldeneye is doing Oscar-worthy work.  Worse, the passive/aggressive courting of the Bond legacy forces comparisons between Jason Connery as Fleming and the various Bond actors -- including his titanically charismatic father -- as Bond, and on that score, Connery is a miserable failure.  All you who might think I over-rate George Lazenby as Bond, you need only look to Jason Connery as Ian Fleming to see what a truly wooden performance as Bond might be like.

Points awarded:  000/007.  Yep, that's right.  Not even giving a single point.  If this were merely a standard biopic, I might; but since the production so clearly courts comparison to the Bond films, I'm going to indulge them in their quest.  You called down the thunder, fellas!  Don't complain about the lightning that accompanies it.
 

(2)  SPECTRE

Main Villain:  Unlike Goldeneye, Spymaker does at least have something approximating a main villain: Joss Ackland as General Hellstein, a lamely on-the-nose name that has none of the wit one might expect of a Fleminian villain's name.

Ackland -- a long-serving character actor whom you might recognize from films such as The Hunt for Red October -- is decent, but the movie doesn't do much of anything of note with the character.  It is content merely to hint at Hellstein -- who, it must be noted, is a fictional creation, and not a real person -- as a template for Fleming's "Bond villains" of his later fiction-writing career.

Points awarded (Main Villain):  001/007.  Ackland is okay, but the character is a bore.
 
Henchmen:  Apart from random Nazis, there are no actual henchmen to speak of, per se.  However, a few of the female characters -- such as Gallina -- are meant to be stand-ins for the sort of treacherous lady double agents Fleming would occasionally use in his novels.

Points awarded (Henchmen): 000/007.  Arkie Whiteley as Gallina is rather bad, so I'm again opting for the zero-points option.
 
Total points awarded (S.P.E.C.T.R.E.):  000.5/007

(3)  The Bond Girls

Main Bond Girl:  Leda St. Gabriel -- who, like General Hellstein, is at best an amalgam of real-life Fleming associates and at worst an outright fiction from the mind of screenwriter Robert J. Avrech -- is played by Kristin Scott Thomas.  Thomas, who would go on later in the decade to better things (such as The English Patient, opposite future M actor Ralph Fiennes), is rather good in the role, although the screenplay paints her as being entirely too wishy-washy.  If there's a downside, it's that Thomas has zero charisma with Connery.

But let's not blame her for that.


Points awarded (Main Bond Girl): 002/007.  Thomas is not bad at all, and that's in spite of how poorly-written the character is.

Secondary Bond Girls:  Fleming is portrayed as something of a walking priapism in Spymaker, and that might not be terribly far off the mark, historically-speaking.  Thing is, apart from Leda, none of the other ladies Fleming beds here are shown as anything other than walking vaginas.  Yeah, sure: the Bond movies are sometimes guilty of that sin, as well.  But they just as frequently take at least some care to try and individuate the characters in some way, so as to show that Bond is drawn to them not merely because of their genitals, but also as a response to something in their personalities.  Spymaker does not even make a gesture in that direction, and as a result comes as seeming to be every bit as sexist as the worst criticisms of the Bond movies suggest.
 
Points awarded (Secondary Bond Girls):  000/007.  Yep; another naught.

Total points awarded (The Bond Girls): 001/007
 
(4)  "Oh, James..."

Action/Stunts:  Despite that hyperbolic blurb I have mentioned a few times, there is very little action to be had here.  What's there is perfunctory, unimaginative, and rote.

Points awarded (Action/Stunts):  000/007.  Please see prior comment about thunder/lightning.

Editing:  The editing here is not as disjointed as it was in Goldeneye, but there is certainly no great artistry at work, either.  "Competent" is the best word I can think of.

Points awarded (Editing): 002/007

Costumes/Makeup: Nothing stood out either positively or negatively.  Fleming wears a tux or two, in an obvious attempt to Bond the movie up a bit.  I suppose that element was at least mildly successful.

Points awarded (Costumes/Makeup):  002/007

Locations:  None to speak of.  The production is a cheap one, and the lack of locations reflects that.

Points awarded (Locations):  000/007.  "All the excitement of a Bond movie," my ass.  Even the worst Bond movie -- namely, Never Say Never Again -- includes a few exciting vistas.  This has none.

Overall points awarded ("Oh, James..."): 001/007
 
(5)  Q Branch
 
Bond's Allies:  There are two separate M stand-ins: the editor at Reuters, and Admiral Godfrey.  Weirdly, Miss Delaney ends up serving both as secretary, and is -- as previously mentioned -- an obvious Moneypenny figure.  Marsha Fitzalen does reasonably well in that capacity, and there is a scene between her and Connery that may as well be a parody of Bond/Moneypenny outside-M's-office scenes.  And again, it will make you appreciate nearly every other Bond/Moneypenny scene all the more.

David Warner is okay as Admiral Godfrey, I guess; but only because he is David Warner.

Julian Firth as Q(uincy) has a thankless task.  He isn't up to it, though he's at least not awful.

Points awarded (Bond's Allies):  001/007.  I kind of like Fitzalen, which is the only reason I'm not awarding another goose egg.

Direction: The direction is courtesy journeyman television director Ferdinand Fairfax, who has no visual style, little skill with actors, and little apparent interest in tone or atmosphere.  I would not go so far as to call his work "incompetent," but would not hesitate for a moment to use the word "uninspired" as a replacement.

Points awarded (Direction):  001/007

Cinematography:  I'm tempted to exclude this category on the simple basis of how shoddy the transfer of the Warner Archives DVD is.  The entire thing is -- as you can tell from the screencaps -- badly out of focus, and looks to have been filmed through a condom.  Possibly a used one.  So really, I have no sense of what the movie's cinematography looks like; the DVD transfer has rendered it a mystery.

But I think it's a safe bet to assume that it's flat and uninspired.  If it wasn't, then surely there would have been times that found me thinking, "Boy, if this DVD didn't look like shit, I bet that'd be a nice shot!"

There wasn't.

Points awarded (Cinematography): 001/007.  One point, just to give the benefit of the doubt.

Art Direction:  It's a cheap production, and the only set that looks at all impressive is the one serving as the Russian courtroom.  Otherwise, this is low-rent stuff.

Points awarded (Art Direction): 001/007

Special Effects:  There aren't many, but a few stand out, and negatively: (1) Fleming and Gallina on the train, as it pulls away into the distance; this looks like a digital matte painting, and it's about as crude as anything similar I've ever seen; (2) the soldiers surfacing in the waters of Norway, which seem to have been filmed at a YMCA; and (3) the explosion that kills Leda, which is not even as impressive as explosions one would see on Monty Python's Flying Circus.

Points awarded (Special Effects):  000/007.  You guys still think you want to be compared to the Bond movies?  Okey-dokey...

Gadgets:   Quincy sucks.  There was no such person, for one thing; and even if there was, the character is lame.  His inventions are lame, too; this is pandering, pure and simple.

Points awarded (Gadgets):  000/007.  Why bother?  This was much more a Bond-movie thing than a Fleming thing, anyways.

Opening-Title Sequence:  I'm a little surprised, given how much effort went in to replicating various Bond-movie tropes, that Spymaker doesn't have an opening-title theme and sequence.  Thankfully, though, it doesn't.

Points awarded (Opening-Title Sequence):  n/a

Overall points awarded (Q Branch):  000.67/007. Miles beneath even the worst of the Bond films.
 
(6)  Mission Briefing

The screenplay has its moments.  The recurring theme of Fleming's fascination with the legend of Saint George -- which I am charitably (and, probably, incorrectly) going to assume is based on fact -- is at least decent.  So is the idea of Fleming trying to live up to the shadow of his father's heroism, as well as the high standards of his mother.  The screenplay makes nothing of these ideas, but they are at least present, which counts for something.

However, I cannot let the screenplay off the hook for the extent to which it fictionalizes Fleming's life.  Every biopic does this to some degree or another, but this one does so egregiously; and, in some cases, it does so merely to ape the Bond films' conceits, not all of which actually came from Fleming.  As a biographical film, this is a wrong-headed disaster.  Clearly, the producers merely wanted to make a Bond film with "Fleming" standing in for Bond.  I sort of understand the impulse, and if they had simply gone whole-hog into comic-book territory along the lines of something like Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter then I might have some respect for them.

However, when you call something The Secret Life of Ian Fleming, I expect Ian Fleming's life to be reflected.  And it mostly isn't here.  As a result, I'm going to do something I've never done in the course of the Double-0 Rating system.

Points awarded:  -001/007.  That's right!  NEGATIVE ONE.

(07)  The Music

Title Song:  Blessedly, there isn't one.

Points awarded (Title Song): 

The Score:  The music is by Carl Davis, who, unsurprisingly, mostly seems to have worked in British television.  If I heard the music on its own outside the film, I'd probably think it was fairly good.  As used in the film, it's repetitive and overbearing.

Points awarded (The Score):  002/007, which is probably a point too high; but so be it.

Total points awarded (The Music):  002/007.

Double-0 Rating for Spymaker: The Secret Life of Ian Fleming:  000.60/007

Let's see how that compares to the rest of the movies we've scored (hint: poorly):


006.23 -- From Russia With Love
006.03 -- Goldfinger
005.58 -- The Living Daylights
004.84 -- Moonraker
004.76 -- Dr. No
004.42 -- For Your Eyes Only
004.39 -- Live and Let Die
001.43 -- Never Say Never Again
000.60 -- Spymaker: The Secret Life of Ian Fleming

This is a movie that crassly tries to trade on the mythos of the James Bond films.  It does so even though it has to resort to plain old fabrication; this was not Fleming's life (as I understand it, at least).  But apart from that, it ain't no James Bond movie, either.  Even the worst of them -- whichever you would put in that category -- has at least something going for it, be it exotic locales, good special effects, good music, or thrilling stunts.  This movie has only Kristin Scott Thomas going for it, and while she's good, she's nothing special.

So all in all, this movie is a bit of a piece of crap.  Goldeneye looks like a Hall of Fame contender by comparison, and even it is fairly low-rent.
    
You Only Blog Twice will return in . . . (shudder) . . . James Bond Jr.

4 comments:

  1. “Fleming meets with the mistress, and kisses her; but, finding her lips to be cold, he smacks her, reasoning that she is in fact double-crossing him.”

    I kept waiting for you to write “Okay, that actually didn’t happen.” And ditto for:

    “(will he later give her a copy of the book Birds of the West Indies by James Bond? -- indeed he will)”

    But no. As it dawned on me that you were faithfully transcribing the events onscreen, I had to shake my head. Wow on both counts. I sincerely hope that these are not invented details, and that Ian Fleming went through the rest of his life smacking the face of any dame he kissed whose lips were cold, then sent them a wrapped copy of Birds of the West Indies as a day-after make-up present. (Disclaimer: this is not violence-against-women humor but contrived-screenplay humor.)

    I can even see this as his “foolproof” way of testing people, from waitresses to bank tellers to policewomen and judges. “Madame, I suspect you of lying… Only one way to tell.”

    It cracks me up that this is sold as “having all the action of a Bond film!” A more accurate tagline would be (as lifted from this here blog:) “It looks as if it was shot through a used condom.”

    I remember watching this at the time it aired but little else about it. Your breakdown seems more than fair based on the images and events described. Part of me is greatly amused at the Barnum and Bailey approach to Fleming’s actual life, but perhaps they should have went even further. When you’re condensing and re-arranging elements of someone’s life to better fit a three-act structure and symbolic arc, that’s one thing. When you blatantly invent things, that’s another. If you’re going the latter route, I mean, at least commit; Fleming should have discovered Hellstein was working on invoking ancient demons/ Cosmic Cube/ time travel, yadda yadda, or have Fleming bang the Queen. I don’t know. Probably still wouldn’t have saved it. Just saying, once you go the U-571 route, go all the way.

    “The Quincy Booster” sounds like it could have been developed more. It probably should have come back in the third act to come in handy, unexpectedly, shouldn’t it? Though perhaps it does in the form of the "subaqueous marine transporter,” which is a real chuckler of a phrase.

    James Bond, Jr.! Nice.

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    1. It's just such a weird movie. It's borderline offensive, I'd say. The producers clearly didn't care one whit about Ian Fleming; they were merely interested in making a pseudo-Bond-film, right down to casting one of Sean Connery's shoes as Fleming.

      What's that? It wasn't one of Sean's shoes? It was his SON?!? Well . . . if you say so.

      I like all of your suggestions. In the parallel universe where this really was Fleming's life, I can only assume that he did indeed conduct frequent spot-checks on the temperature of womens' lips, and had a great many ladies executed on suspicion of treason simply because they'd just been enjoying a milkshake or something. What a dolt he was.

      There's only one thing for it: someone needs to write a sequel wherein it is revealed that Fleming later became the first British astronaut, and did not in fact die as he is said to have done; instead, he is currently serving as the British ambassador to the Annunaki. "Lips are very cold . . . in space."

      That, I might respect.

      This, on the other hand, is hogwash. And even that might have been okay if it were entertaining.

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  2. "Yay, incest!" LMFAO

    Are you sure this was an Ian Fleming biopic? I didn't see him smoking in each and every screencap.

    I'm pretty sure I saw this on TV years and years ago. My impression was that I didn't enjoy it then. Your review makes me think I wouldn't enjoy it now. Think I'll skip this one.

    Let's get to James Bond, Jr!

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    1. If I understand the movie correctly, this is a prequel to "Goldeneye," and the events of "Spymaker" are what cause Fleming to turn to a life in which tobacco is his only solace.

      Skip away, I'd say. Like you, I watched this when it first aired. That was around the time I was still prone to enjoy things simply because I expected to enjoy them, and as I watched it, I slowly began to sense that something was wrong. I couldn't quite put my finger on it.

      Rewatching it years later, I finally figured out what was wrong: the movie sucked. Not much as far as epiphanies go, but I'll take what I can get (words also heard emerging from the mouth of Jason Connery's agent circa 1990).

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