Tag Archive: Felix Leiter


Review by C.J. Bunce

First published in March 1956, Diamonds Are Forever is Ian Fleming’s fourth James Bond novel.  This time Bond is tasked by M to follow the route of diamond smugglers transporting stones into England from Africa and on to the United States.  He replaces a small-time transporter and is partnered with the novel’s requisite “Bond girl,” Tiffany Case, and they embark on a trip to the Northeast United States.  Bond becomes an employee of The Mob, and is reunited with his former American ally Felix Leiter (minus an arm and leg after the shark incident in Live and Let Die).  The story moves on to Las Vegas, with some good gambling scenes, then on to a rebuilt Old West town called Spectreville, where Bond meets a strange and wealthy villain who collects real antique trains as if they were toys.  And the action culminates aboard the cruiseship Queen Elizabeth.  The novel is nicely bookended, beginning and ending at a thorn bush occupied by a scorpion in the middle of a desert.

Typically Ian Fleming and James Bond are at their worst when visiting America.  It’s difficult to enjoy the normally down-to-Earth Bond pick up his author’s clear disdain for Americans, whether his inner-monologue through Bond is truly a reflection of the times or not.  Fleming exhibits his peculiar theme of Americans rambling all their dialogue in long outbursts with “low English” dialect regardless of their social strata.  And Fleming seems to wallow in his racism in scenes set in America more so than with Bond in other locales.  But the biggest plus?  The lack of that James Bond misogyny compared to other Fleming efforts.  The seventh novel adapted into a film, and the last canon work for Sean Connery as Bond (he’d have one more go at it 12 years later in Never Say Never Again), Fleming’s fourth Bond novel and the film carrying its name ultimately share little resemblance, ultimately a good thing for moviegoers.  Yet with the current Bond and the reboot of the franchise with Casino Royale, a solid adaptation redo from a good screenwriter could be possible as the story is serviceable with a good edit.

   

The first act takes off too slowly.  The second act is very dry, reading like a travelogue, and at times it is nearly unbearable–to illustrate this point I began reading Diamonds Are Forever in 2014 and kept grinding to a halt (as noted in my review of Dr. No).  Somehow I began again and made it this weekend, thanks to a classic Bond casino scene in Chapter 17 and a stunning car chase action sequence in Chapter 18 that got me over the hump.  From then on, those final 100 pages, the story comes together and Bond, Tiffany Case, the corps of villains, and that classic Bond action finally kicks into high gear.

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It’s been one long year of great entertainment.  Before we wrap our coverage of 2017, it’s time for the fifth annual round of new honorees for the borg Hall of Fame.  We have plenty of honorees from 2017 films, plus many from past years, and a peek at some from the future.  You can always check out the updated borg Hall of Fame on our home page under “Know your borg.”

In anticipation of the 2017 film Logan, last year we added Old Man Logan, Laura/X-23, and cyborg-armed mercenary Donald Pierce.  We also added Scarlet Johansson’s character The Major, previewing 2017’s live-action film The Ghost in the Shell.

We didn’t get the big ballroom at our venue reserved early enough for the induction ceremony this year, so it limited us to tapping only 24 named characters into the revered Hall of Fame this year.


As with last year, we’re granting a few early entrances this year, first to Simone Missick’s badass cop Misty Knight, who is getting a borg arm for season two of Luke Cage in 2018.


And here is an early look at Josh Brolin’s Cable, from 2018’s Deadpool sequel.  The borg comic book character Cable was a first round honoree to the Hall, so this is just another update to the character.


Onto this year… Kingsman’s almost-a-Kingsman Charlie was thought to have been killed off in the first film.  But he was back in the 2017 film Kingsman: The Golden Circle, sporting cyborg components.


A host of new borgs–Replicants in Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?–returned to the big screen in Blade Runner 2049, including some new names and faces, like Ryan Gosling’s K

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Felix Leiter. 

He’s James Bond’s American CIA counterpart, played onscreen by more actors than have played James Bond himself: Hawaii Five-O’s Jack Lord (Dr. No, 1962), Cec Linder (Goldfinger, 1964), Rik Van Nutter (Thunderball, 1965), Norman Burton (Diamonds Are Forever, 1971), David Hedison (Live and Let Die, 1973, and Licence to Kill, 1989), Bernie Casey (The Living Daylights, 1987), John Terry (Never Say Never Again, 1983), and most recently Jeffrey Wright (Casino Royale, 2006, and Quantum of Solace, 2008).  Leiter was a key player in six Ian Fleming novels–Casino Royale, Live and Let Die, Goldfinger, Thunderball, and The Man with the Golden Gun–where he drove a Studillac, which was a Studebaker with a Cadillac engine.

Leiter gets his first solo adventure ever this month in his own series, Felix Leiter, from Dynamite Comics.  James Robinson (Starman, Scarlet Witch) is writing the series with artwork by Aaron Campbell (The Shadow, Uncanny).  Issue #1 features a cover by Mike Perkins and Andy Taylor and an alternate cover by Gabriel Hardman and Jordan Boyd.  Leiter’s first appearance in comic books was in Mike Grell’s Permission to Die, reviewed here at borg.com.

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The new series finds Leiter in Japan, where he is pursuing Alena Davoff, a woman he has a close past with.  She happens to be a Russian agent.  He’s a detective since the loss of his hand and leg, but the CIA pulls him back into the mix with a Connery-esque Bond as Leiter pursues Davoff.

Check out a preview for Issue #1 of Felix Leiter, courtesy of Dynamite, after the cut.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

A modern reader will flinch a bit at Ian Fleming’s second James Bond novel, Live and Let Die.  His novel was written in 1954 through the eyes of an ex-British intelligence military officer and all the British imperialism of the time in which Fleming was writing spy novels.  Blacks are referred to as negroes throughout the book and it’s hard to separate whether the characters or narrator are guilty of the use of racial slurs attached to characters of almost every race, and even 1950s America is disparaged incessantly by Bond and the narrator throughout the book.

The villain of Live and Let Die is a large black man with “golden eyes” called Mr. Big.  By all accounts he is every bit the equal of any other mob boss from New York City’s history, only this mob boss is said to be the first criminal genius who is black.  He gets all the benefits of being a criminal mastermind and, indeed, gives Bond as much of a run for his money as any Bond villain.   M sends Bond on this mission in New York City, partnering with the CIA to attempt to track down a tie of rumored gold coin treasure of legendary pirate Captain Morgan and how Mr. Big is using the gold to fund his illegal enterprises.  Because Mr. Big is believed a spy for Russian agency SMERSH, whose agent left Bond’s hand branded as “spy” at the end of Casino Royale, Bond is eager to take out Mr. Big.  But Bond under-estimates this crime lord.  To give you an idea of the lens through which Fleming wrote the book, here’s an excerpt:

“I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a great negro criminal before,” said Bond.  “Chinamen, of course, the men behind the opium trade.  There’ve been some big-time Japs, mostly in pearls and drugs.  Plenty of negroes mixed up in diamonds and gold in Africa, but always in a small way.  They don’t seem to take to big business.  Pretty law-abiding chaps I should have thought, except when they’ve drunk too much.
 
“Our man’s a bit of an exception,” said M.  “He’s not pure negro.  Born in Haiti.  Good dose of French blood.  Trained in Moscow, too, as you’ll see from the file.  And the negro races are just beginning to throw up geniuses in all the professions–scientists, doctors, writers.  It’s about time they turned up a great criminal.  After all there are 250,000,000 of them in the world.  Nearly a third of the white population.  They’ve got plenty of brains and ability and guts….”

The villain Mr. Big seems to mirror this in the climax of the book:

“In the history of negro emancipation, there have already appeared great athletes, great musicians, great writers, great doctors and scientists.  In due course, as in the developing history of other races, there will appear negroes great and famous in every other walk of life.  It is unfortunate for you, Mister Bond, and this girl, that you have encountered the first of the great negro criminals.”

So you not only have racist banter, you have the passing derogatory reference from a 1955 British society view, including the hinted weak attempt at the “but hey, jolly good, they’re giving it a good show,” and multiple attempts by Fleming to claim that he has managed to write the account of the first black villain of literature.  So the bottom line is this novel will make the average reader cringe, several times, throughout the story.  If you want to move past that part of the book, you’ll find the story and action rival that of his first novel, Casino Royale.

I had the benefit of reading Live and Let Die without reference to the Roger Moore film of the same name, the eighth in the Broccoli family’s cinematic productions.  But as much as I think I have seen all the Bond films multiple times, this story seemed unfamiliar.  It may be because bits of the novel are filtered through the movie adaptations Licence to Kill and For Your Eyes Only So I read it imagining Bond as current Bond actor Daniel Craig, but also trying to remember Sean Connery playing the role.  Only after finishing did I realize this was Roger Moore’s first role as Bond.  His more snobbish performances might very well have made him the better pick for this Bond story.

The co-star of this novel is American CIA agent Felix Leiter, and perhaps because I am an American reader, he has become my favorite supporting character in the new series, as played by black actor Jeffrey Wright in Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace He’s sort of the John Clark (from Tom Clancy’s novels) of the Bond world.  In my mind’s eye I saw Wright as Leiter here, but he was written and played in the films as a white Texan, so my thoughts of his Fleming’s clever use of Leiter helping Bond through understanding the politics of Harlem were just misplaced.  I also did not realize Yaphet Coto played Mr. Big onscreen and Jane Seymour as Bond-girl Solitaire.  Unlike Seymour’s typical role, the novel’s female conquest for Bond is neither independent nor strong.  But in trying to save her own life she manages to help Bond in the process, and is interesting as a second tier Bond partner.  And for my last movie reference I also admit I was tripped up every time M was referred to as male, as Dame Judi Dench’s seven portrayals on film now forever lock her as the only M in my mind.

Movies aside, as spy novels go, Live and Let Die stands on its own merits.  Peeling back the social commentary, James Bond in his second mission is both more accessible and emotional (he tears up once) and also more gritty.  His banter among spies rings of a predecessor to Richard Marcinko’s Rogue Warrior persona.  The most enjoyable trait is his loyalty, and even friendship, to Felix, and it is damage done to Felix that drives Bond’s motivation through half the novel.  Ian Fleming, who knew his hero at page one of his first novel, here leaves aside any character building and dives in head first with Bond as the fully realized master spy, fully aware of all the details in the room.  Fleming’s own life at his real-world estate called Goldeneye in Jamaica in particular is used to excellent effect in his descriptions and assessment of contemporary Jamaica.

Look for good sequences of Bond and Leiter being beaten in Harlem by Mr. Big’s henchmen, Felix’s “off-screen” bout with a shark in Florida, Bond exacting satisfying revenge for Felix, Bond’s attempt to save Solitaire from Mr. Big while uncovering the secret behind Captain Morgan’s gold as he swims in underwater gear off the coast of Jamaica, and finally, Mr. Big’s cunning method of concealing the gold and protecting his find from others.  A strange sub-culture of voodoo permeates the novel–Mr. Big uses black American workers across the country as his eyes and ears and to do so relies on their belief in and fear of voodoo.  This comes off as strange to the modern reader, particularly that all these people supposedly truly believe that Mr. Big is not the devil himself, but the devil’s own zombie.

Despite its shortcomings Live and Let Die features an action-packed story and Bond in spy mode as intriguing as ever.