Novel publication year – 1964
Film release year – 1967
007 – Sean Connery
The eleventh publication; the fifth film. The film represented the first time that the producers more or less disregarded Fleming’s original storyline and devised a new screenplay almost from scratch. That said, there are some areas worth comparing and contrasting.
The novel is not, in my opinion, among Fleming’s best. Bond is sent on what M considers a hopeless intelligence-gathering mission to Japan in an attempt to see if 007 will be able to bounce back from his shock and depression following the murder of his new bride, Tracy, the events of which took place in OHMSS. Specifically, Bond is directed to learn what he can about “Magic 44” — a secret ciphering technique. The first half of the story is essentially a travelogue as Bond, together with Tiger Tanaka (the head of Japan’s secret service), make their way around Japan as Bond adapts to Japanese culture and develop a cover to allow him to infiltrate the compound of a mysterious foreigner named Dr. Guntram Shatterhand. Dr. Shatterhand, Tanaka eventually explains, has developed a deadly garden filled with various types of poisonous plants and insects. This poison garden, Tanaka further explains, has become a killing field for suicidal Japanese citizens. Tanaka conscripts 007 to kill Shatterhand with the understanding that “Magic 44” will be shared with him as a reward. Dr. Shatterhand turns out to be Ernst Stavro Blofeld, 007’s old nemesis and the man who murdered Tracy. Blofeld’s “ugly” henchlady, Erma Bunt, is still at his side.
The film is also, in my opinion, on the lower end of 007 films and does not merit extended comment. Quite unlike the novel, the film begins in outer space, where a U.S. space capsule is captured by a larger spacecraft (not unlike the submarine hijackings seen in Thunderball). The scheme turns out to be orchestrated by, whom else, Blofled. Blofeld’s plan in the film is to induce a nuclear war between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. in exchange for a $100 million payment from China.
Turning to some interesting crossovers, both the novel and the film depict a bromance between 007 and Tanaka. Each are cut from the same cloth and enjoy women, good food, and copious drinking. For example, in the novel, Tanaka brings Bond to various massage parlors and restaurants serving Kobe beef and Fagu. In the film, Tanaka treats Bond to a hand bathing by a crew of masseuses and essentially provides him with a sex companion, explaining that, in Japan, women “come second.” That said, both formats feature strong “Bond girls.” In the film, Bond’s Japanese courtesans often step in to save his life, while in the novel, Kissy Suzuki – whom Bond develops true feelings for – is critical to both his infiltration of, and eventual escape from, Blofeld’s castle. Both the film and the novel also give a nod to Japanese ninjas and their centuries-old combat and spying techniques; the primary difference being that, in the novel, Tanaka insists that his team of ninjas (and 007) undertake their missions without the use of modern weapons (i.e., guns), while, in the film, Tanaka has no such compunction, noting at one point that his team possesses powerful jet propulsion guns.
Although Blofeld is the central villain in both the novel and the film, as noted above, his scheme in each is vastly different. In the novel, Blofeld’s somewhat modest goal is to simply to operate an attractive place for Japan’s suicidal citizens to creatively put themselves to death by, in one case, walking into a pool of scalding lava or, in another case, jumping into a pond filled with flesh-eating piranha fish. As also noted above, Blofeld’s scheme in the film is a far more audacious plan to escalate cold war tensions between the U.S. and the Soviet Union until World War III breaks out. (Although it is worth noting that Blofeld also has a piranha pit in the film.) Simply put: both storylines are a bit silly and unrealistic. That said, what makes the novel more compelling than the film is Bond’s almost desperate desire to exact revenge on Blofeld for Tracy’s murder.
Of course, 007 defeats Blofeld both in the novel and in the film. The Blofeld death scene in the novel is particularly intense, as Bond first narrowly escapes death by avoiding a lava geyser in Blofeld’s torture room and then a beheading under Blofeld’s samurai sword before strangling Blofeld to death with his bare hands whispering, “die Blofeld! Die!” as Blofeld takes his final gasps of air. In the novel, Bond re-sets the lava geyser that almost killed him to blow up Blofeld’s castle. In the film, Blofeld himself activates a self-destruct system to destroy his unground lair as Bond and a team of ninjas close in. So, in both, Blofeld’s complex base of operations is destroyed. The difference is, in the film, Blofeld escapes to fight another day.
The endings are very different. The film features a typical 007 movie ending with Bond getting the girl in a life raft as they await rescue following another successful mission. In the novel, Bond narrowly escapes Blofeld’s exploding castle by floating away using a large balloon before crashing into the ocean, where he is rescued by Kissy. It turns out that (much to Kissy’s pleasure) Bond has lost his memory, and begins to live a simple life on Kissy’s island, Kuro, helping her fish every day. M. believes that Bond had been killed and has 007’s obituary published. (The obituary, incidentally, provides the most detailed background information about Bond’s upbringing than found in any of Fleming’s prior novels or stories.) Bond’s memory begins to recover when he reads a Russian name of a scrap of newspaper and tells Kissy that he must travel to Russian to help him regain his memory. Lastly, just a quick note: it appears that Blofeld will make yet another appearance (or not) in the upcoming 007 flick, SPECTRE. Can’t wait.