Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Moonraker: Ian Fleming


To this point, I have read the first four James Bond novels by Ian Fleming. Based on my readings, it appears to me that there are things you accept when you read a James Bond novel:

  • There will be male chauvinistic behavior.
  • There will be ethnic slurs and slights, to varying degrees so far
  • There will be lots of violence.

Regardless of this, I find the Ian Fleming James Bond series to be consistently entertaining and each book is a page turner. If they were hard to get through or less than entertaining, I would give up on them. And the books do not follow an exact formula; each book is different.


In Moonraker, Sir Hugo Drax is a very rich man who is building a rocket to be used in Britain's defense system. It is very close to being ready for testing. Meanwhile, M and Drax belong to a very elite club and Drax is suspected of cheating at cards. M wants Bond to determine if this is true, because it would cause a scandal if exposed. A very exciting card game ensues.

Very soon after this, one of two security people supplied by the RAF is killed in a double murder at Drax's development site. Bond is sent to take the murdered man's place as head of Security because of the upcoming test launch of the rocket. The other security person on site, Gala Brand, is working undercover as Drax's private secretary. All other personnel at the site are German guided missile experts.

There are several elements that set this book apart. Gala is an agent and she is intelligent and capable. Although Bond does behave chauvinistically toward her initially, he grows to care for her and acknowledges her abilities as an agent along the way. In the books, Bond does not treat women as objects quite so much as in the movies, especially the earlier movies.

Bond is shown to have a normal life, or at least a life apart from endless spy missions. This never comes across in the movies, and shows up rarely in the books.
It was the beginning of a typical routine day for Bond. It was only two or three times a year that an assignment came along requiring his particular abilities. For the rest of the year he had the duties of an easy-going civil servant – elastic office hours from ten to six; lunch, generally in the canteen; evenings spent playing cards in the company of a few close friends, or at Crockford’s; or making love, with rather cold passion, to one of three similarly disposed married women; weekends playing golf for high stakes at one of the clubs near London.
Bond is depicted as a very capable agent but not a superman. He suffers when he is beaten up; he is susceptible to tiring out or being overcome by superior strength. As in most adventure stories he does get out of scrapes by his wits and luck, but that part of the story is fairly realistic. Yes, the plot and action is still over the top, but in a good way. And it was fun.

The Adaptation Starring Roger Moore


You could call the movie "Bond in Space"; the plot is certainly very science-fictiony. The movie adaptation jettisons most of the plot of the book. There is some justification for this. By the time the book was adapted, a defense rocket would not be all that exciting. I have read that the decision to film Moonraker at the time it was made (1979) was due to the recent successful films set in space, such as Star Wars. Thus the rocket becomes a space shuttle that can transport astronauts and supplies to a space station.

However, I found the adaptation was a disappointment because the card game and the cheating issue are dropped and the trip to outer space is totally outlandish. Possibly the issue of cheating at cards was seen as not as such a hot topic in the late seventies as it was in the fifties? Although certainly there have been many gambling scenes in more recent Bond movies.

A big difference between book and movie is that the book stays in the UK, the movie has many exotic locations; the action starts in London, moves to the US (Los Angeles), then to Venice and Rio de Janeiro and finally, into space.

The Roger Moore movies tend to be less serious than those that preceded or followed them. Hugo Drax is played by Michael Lonsdale; in the movie he heads a facility that produces space shuttles for NASA. The Bond girls are Holly Goodhead, played by Lois Chiles, and Corinne Dufour, played by Corinne Cléry. Holly Goodhead is a CIA agent and astronaut while Corinne is Drax's secretary and private pilot. Jaws, Drax's henchman,played by Richard Kiel, is a giant of a man with steel teeth. He had appeared previously in The Spy Who Loved Me.

I would have loved to see an adaptation that came close to the Fleming story, but if you take the movie by itself it is fun. It is full of gadgets and written for laughs. The movie was bizarrely unrealistic, but I could enjoy it for what it was.

This movie gets very mixed reviews from bloggers.  Some people consider it the worst Bond movie ever made and a total waste of time; others enjoyed it immensely.

See these posts on Moonraker (the novel):
at Vintage Pop Fictions; at Clothes in Books, plus a follow up here; and at Stainless Steel Droppings.

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Publisher:   MJF Books, 1993 (orig. pub. 1955) 
Length:       223 pages
Format:      Hardcover
Series:       James Bond, #3
Setting:      UK
Genre:        Spy thriller
Source:      I purchased this book.



41 comments:

  1. Tracy, I thought Roger Moore's Bond films bordered on comedy. I remember him as being particularly funny in the role. Moore was very popular in 1980's India. I'm going to have read Fleming's paperbacks soon.

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    1. I will be very interested in what you think of Ian Fleming's James Bond books, Prashant. I have seen less of the Roger Moore films so can't comment from experience, but I have read that the movies he did focused more on humor. After I have read through all of the books and watched the associated movies, I plan to watch any of the movies that are not based on books... although I may have seen most of them.

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  2. I was never a fan of Bond in films growing up, probably a reaction as a bolshy "Irish" teenager - rebelling against an agent of the state, there to prop up the British establishment. Now I don't take myself half so seriously and I've enjoyed the latter ones for what they are - 2 hours flashy entertainment. I'll read the Fleming's one day!

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    1. That is interesting, Col, not taking yourself too seriously is good. I don't remember seeing many Bond movies until I met Glen and after we had a VCR. He always preferred the Sean Connery movies, and then we liked the Pierce Brosnan films too. Funny how different the Bond actors are.

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  3. I think you make a well-taken point, Tracy. If you're going to read Fleming, you're going to see misogyny, 'isms' and it does get violent. But I can also see why people love the action in this series.

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    1. To be honest, I did not notice the violence so much in the books until I read some analyses of that, Margot. But Bond and his cohorts do get pretty beat up in each book so far. I have been very surprised by the books, which keeps them interesting.

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  4. Thanks Tracy, great reviews. Of the early Bond books, this and DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER are the one I always have trouble remembering to be honest, and I consider myself a proper fan too! I saw the movie when it came out and it was a big family outing - I was 10 years old, my brother was 8, we were incredibly excited and yet knew, even then, that it wasn't very good and much too jokey! Having said that, individual scenes such as the doberman attack in the misty forest and Bond being strapped into and out of control turbine are very suspenseful and well done. But mostly it is silly and lazy.

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    1. I enjoyed the movie while watching it, Sergio, but looking back it is amazing how weird it is. There are lots of good parts, though. I am really liking reading the books and watching the movies. I had no idea how many of the films were made using the title but jettisoning most of the plot.

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  5. I'm one of those who would class MOONRAKER as the worst Bond movie ever made (if you except the very first adaptation, TV's CASINO ROYALE), though DIE ANOTHER DAY comes close. I would like to see movie versions of MOONRAKER, THE SPY WHO LOVED ME, and YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE that actually stayed relatively close to the original novels.

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    1. I agree, Mike. They should have just called the movie something else. I liked the movie fine for one viewing, but there are plenty of other Bond movies that I can watch over and over.

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    2. For me the worst Bond movie ever made is a close contest between LICENCE TO KILL (1989) and CASINO ROYALE (2006).

      My least favourite of the Roger Moore Bond films is THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN. I don't dislike it but it just seems a little flat to me. I like MOONRAKER.

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    3. dfordoom, I have seen Licence to Kill but it has been a while; someday I will try it again. I did like Casino Royale. I don't know if I ever saw The Man with the Golden Gun.

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  6. I liked the book, as I did all of the early Bond books, which I read as quick easy entertainment while in college, a nice break from studying. I've seen all of the films except the latest two or three, and liked most of them, but not the ones with Moore, and certainly not this one, especially with it's idiotic space sequence. I still think From Russia With Love is my favorite of them.

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    1. From Russia With Love is my husband's favorite Bond film. I don't really have a favorite. I like the more serious Bond actors, Connery, Brosnan, and Daniel Craig. The books are definitely fast reads and entertaining.

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    2. I've seen three of the Pierce Brosnan Bond movies (GOLDENEYE, TOMORROW NEVER DIES and THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH) and I was pleasantly surprised by them. In fact they're excellent. I'd almost go so far as to say that Brosnan is my second favourite screen Bond (Connery of course is the best). He really should have taken over the role after Moore's departure. They made him wait too long. He was in his 40s by the time he stepped into the role. He's terrific but he should have made half a dozen Bond movies.

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    3. I am with you on Pierce Brosnan as Bond, dfordoom. He is my 2nd favorite after Connery also. I liked all of his Bond movies, but my husband did not care for The World is Not Enough.

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  7. I really, really, really need to add Ian Fleming to my reading list. I grew up with Roger Moore as Bond hence why he's my favorite over the other guy :)

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    1. I agree, Keishon, you should try at least one Ian Fleming book. So far I have found each one to be a bit different, but I have found them all fast reads and entertaining.

      I have not seen very many of the Roger Moore films, and they are not my favorites, but I like just about any Bond movie. I am fairly indiscriminate with that franchise. I have my favorites, but they all have their good points.

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  8. I started reading the Bond series when I learned JFK was reading them. I took them seriously at the time, but eventually came to see them as satiric--the books and the movies. Haven't read any of them in a long while, but I recall Fleming's style as rather deadpan with tongue planted firmly in cheek. Entertained me back then, and likely would today, as well. Your fine review tickled some memories, Tracy!

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    1. Thanks, Mathew. I know I read a few of the James Bond novels by Fleming because I distinctly remember reading On Her Majesty's Secret Service, but I am not sure when.

      I am currently reading A Perfect Spy, I am so glad you sent me a copy because I would have waited longer to read it and I am enjoying it very much. Not a fast and easy read, but worth the effort.

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  9. From Russia With Love is also my favorite Bond movie. I was young and impressionable and the boys in the back row kept throwing pop-corn in my direction! Carefree summer days, the Bond movie was then a #MustSee ..now I don't even bother. Fleming's books? Never tried... Great review, loved BOOK - MOVIE remarks

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    1. Nancy, my husband saw From Russia With Love in the theater when it first came out, and was pretty young when he first saw it. We do watch all the new Bond films. I am enjoying watching the movies after reading the books. It is also interesting reading the Ian Fleming books in between reading John le Carre spy fiction. Very different approach.

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  10. Totally agree with your comments on the book, you sum it up very well, and I was very interested to read your take on the movie.

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    1. I am enjoying the reading and the watching, Moira, which is the most important thing to me. Because the movies started coming out in the 60s, I was surprised that the book series started in the 50s, and of course the fact that they made the movies in a different order than the books means that the story lines can't stay the same anyway. Some of the movies are mash ups of various pieces of the books, but I have not read or seen enough of either to notice that.

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    2. Is it just me? I think the Bond books are superior to all movie versions. But I feel that way about all books. I cannot think of one movie based on a book that I enjoyed more than the book. Perhaps you and your visitors, TracyK, have something to say more generally about what I consider a mistake: books into films.

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    3. I like movies that are based on books, Tim, although I generally agree that the book is better. Especially if I read the book and see the movie very close together.

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  11. I like both the Fleming originals AND the Moore movies! The latter vary quite widely in approach. Stuf like THE SPY WHO LOVED ME and MOONRAKER are wildly fantastical, whilst FOR YOUR EYES ONLY and OCTOPUSSY do make some attempt to be more realistic. FOR YOUR EYES ONLY actually takes a great deal from a couple of short stories in the book of that name, and feels the most 'Flemingesque' of his movies. It's important to realise that the films are responding to the cultural tensions and attitudes of their times. The more fantastical films were responding to the rather jaded and cynical audiences of the early '70s.

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    1. ggary, I am looking forward to both FOR YOUR EYES ONLY and OCTOPUSSY when I get there. I haven't seen either of the movies (or read the books). I do agree that the films respond to the times, although I had not considered that. I was in my twenties in the 70s and in my first marriage and don't remember watching a lot of movies in that decade. I did not see most of the movies from the 70s until I married my current husband and we watched via tape or laser disc or DVD.

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  12. Roger Moore is the James Bond that I grew up with, and I still like him, though I admit that Sean Connery was the best. I watched the Moonraker movie when I was very young and really enjoyed. Jaws was always a favourite villain of mine. I have not watched it in full as an adult, only caught the odd bit on TV.

    I have not read any of the Bond books. It sounds like I should try some.

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    1. Sean Connery was the Bond I saw most often when I first watched the films (as far as I can remember) and that probably affected my preference for him. You should at least try a Bond book, it makes an interesting comparison

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  13. I've tended to stay away from the Bond books for some reason. I'm thinking I won't like some of the language in the books, and I dont want it to spoil my enjoyment of the films.

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    1. Interesting, Ryan, the books are of their time and do have some objectionable language, at least so far as I have gotten. It will be interesting to see how they change through the years.

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  14. I just now remembered this reading Ed's comment. My mother and an aunt visited me in Germany in the mid '60s to coincide with a brief leave from the Army. We were flying either to or from Switzerland. With us on the commuter plane, in the coach section, was the actor who played Oddjob in Goldfinger. I didn't get the impression everyone recognized him, altho he and seemed good-natured--jolly, even--and to be traveling alone. We didn't approach him, either, maybe because the bowler hat he wore was either the same prop he wore in the movie or one he had made up--with the shiny metal disc around the brim.

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    1. What a great story, Mathew. I love the idea of him wearing the same hat as in the movie.

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  15. If that was the mid-'60s, then it's quite possible that Harold Sakata was involved in a European promotional tour for the movie. It does remind me of a story someone told me about being dragged out of the way of a speeding car when they were trying to cross a busy London road. They turned round to thank their rescuer, and were rendered speechless when it turned out to be Sean Connery in full Saville Row suit, the actor apparently on his way to a photo shoot! This would probably be around the same time.

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    1. Never occurred to me at the time. Very possible.

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    2. Another interesting story. In the mid sixties I was barely aware of the Bond movies, and certainly had not seen any of them.

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  16. Fast and entertaining is what I need right now. Just finished reading a book that was kind of a slog.

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    1. I will admit to being partial to books that have a good pace, Keishon. Not exclusively, but especially when work is really heavy. As it is now.

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  17. I'm in the "enjoyed it immensely" camp regarding the film (I've never read the book). Growing up, I used to be fascinated by South America and its big cities, especially Rio de Janeiro. "I've always had a hankering to go to Rio..." as Roger Moore says when being "encouraged" to take a leave of absence.

    In fact, I've never read any of the Ian Fleming books, maybe that would be a worthy annual project for a coming year. Hmm...

    My favorite line from the movie was during the cable car scene, when "Jaws" is approaching on the other car. Dr. Goodhead asks Bond, "Do you know him?" He replies, "Not socially. His name's Jaws. He kills people." :-)

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    1. Jay, thanks for comment. I did enjoy the parts in Rio de Janeiro. It is a lovely place and so distinctive. And that line you mention is very funny. I like Jaws in this movie.

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