Monday, 28 May 2012

Hitchcockian moments in the Bond films

The website Letters of Note recently publicised the telegram from Ian Fleming to fellow novelist Eric Ambler in which Fleming asks whether Alfred Hitchcock would be interested in directing the film project that he and Kevin McClory were developing (and which would become Thunderball). While Hitchcock never directed a Bond film, his influence can be detected throughout the Bond series. Let's look at some of those key Hitchcockian moments.

If Hitchcock had directed a Bond film, then it probably would have looked something like From Russia With Love, which is the most Hitchcockian of the whole series, and there are characteristic elements from the very start: the opening pre-titles sequence, which misleads the viewer into thinking Bond has been killed; the Lektor decoding machine, which provides a strong macguffin to drive the plot; duplicitous or ambivalent characters (Red Grant and Tatiana); the use of a restricted location (the Orient Express); and naturally the homage to North by Northwest as Bond is attacked by a helicopter.

North by Northwest is recalled again at the climax of A View to a Kill. The sequence on top of the Golden Gate Bridge, as Bond battles Zorin and rescues Stacey Sutton, brings to mind Hitchcock's use of famous landmarks, such as Mount Rushmore (North by Northwest) and the Forth Rail Bridge (The 39 Steps). Indeed, this element is use twice in A View to a Kill, as earlier in the film the narrative takes us to another landmark, the Eiffel Tower.

Then there are moments in the Bond films of genuine Hitchcockian tension. Of particular note is Bond's escape from Piz Gloria in On Her Majesty's Secret Service and the pursuit by Blofeld's men down the mountain to the village. Just as tense is Bond's attempt to defuse the nuclear bomb in the middle of the circus in Octopussy. Both sequences allow the tension to build before being resolved, and the tension is heightened by the juxtaposition of danger and jeopardy with celebration and happiness (a Christmas event and a circus). These recall films such as Strangers on a Train, which ends at an amusement park, and Notorious, which features a scene where Devlin (Cary Grant) and Alicia (Ingrid Bergman) surreptitiously investigate a wine cellar in the midst of a party.

Before the party, at Devlin's request, Alicia had taken the cellar key, from her father, a Nazi sympathiser, without his knowing. There is a similar Hitchcockian element in Thunderball, when Bond asks Domino to locate nuclear bombs on Largo's boat, thus putting her in danger.

Like From Russia With Love, For Your Eyes Only has a very strong macguffin, in this case the ATAC device. The film also presents a classic Hitchcockian character in Kristatos, who we think is on Bond's side, but is actually the villain. The concealed intentions of Live and Let Die's Rosie Carver is rather Hitchcockian, as is her checking into Bond's hotel as Mrs Bond, which along with all uses of false names at hotels in the Bond films, recalls The 39 Steps and the scene where Richard Hannay (Robert Donat) and Pamala (Madeleine Carroll) stay at a Scottish Inn under false names.

There are doubtless other Hitchcockian moments in the Bond films. While the involvement of Hitchcock in the Bond series presents an interesting 'What if?', we can see shades of his style throughout the series.

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