For Your Eyes Only, 1960

After the success of Casino Royale‘s successful adaptation as a television episode of the series Climax!, CBS offered a deal to Ian Fleming to write 32 episodes over a two-year period for a series based on the James Bond character.  Fleming agreed and began to write three episodes, but CBS dropped the matter.  In 1959, Fleming gathered his outlines and turned them into proper stories for a collection he originally titled The Rough with the Smooth.  The title was later changed to For Your Eyes Only, sometimes published in earlier printings with the subtitle “Five Secret Occasions in the Life of James Bond.”

In addition to the three original story outlines, two more stories were compiled from other publications.  “The Hildebrand Rarity” was originally published in Playboy in 1960, while “Quantum of Solace” was written for Cosmopolitan magazine a year earlier as an experimental piece.

The original three stories were, as stated, rewritten television scripts.  To cover these as a proper review, let’s go through each of these individually.

“From a View to a Kill”

Bond investigates the murder of a dispatch-rider from SHAPE (NATO central command, located in Versailles).  As Bond is already in Paris, M sends his agent to assist, looking for the “invisible man factor.”  Setting himself up as bait in the form of a disguised dispatch-rider, Bond lures in and kills the assassin.

From there, Bond tracks down the base and passes its location on to agent Mary Ann Russell.  Proceeding alone to blow it up, he is attacked and rescued by Russell and her fellow agents from Section F.

This story was originally intended to be the backstory for Hugo Drax, the mastermind behind Moonraker.  Drax would have been the motorcycle assassin who crashes his bike and is taken to an American field hospital, left with amnesia and a disfigured face.

The film was originally to be titled the same as the short story, but it was changed just before release.  Aside from the setting in France, there are no other similarities between the two.  Even though it’s not typically the kind of job Bond would get assigned, it still feels like it’s exactly the sort of mission that requires Bond by the time it’s over.  Says a great deal for M’s instincts in putting him there in the first place.  Aside from that, having a mission where Bond’s presence is overkill is a good way to set the pace for this collection.  It offers familiarity for those who know, a good jumping on place for new readers, and allows the variety of the other stories to really shine in their own rites.

“For Your Eyes Only”

The story opens with the murder of a Jamaican couple, the Havelocks, who refuse to sell their land to a Cuban killer hired by Her von Hammerstein.  As it turns out, the Havelocks are close friends of M, who was best man at their wedding, and von Hammerstein is ex-Gestapo, having escaped capture after the war.  Offering Bond an “off-book” voluntary assignment, Bond is asked to track down von Hammerstein and protect the Havelock’s only daughter by any means.  Judy Havelock, however, has plans of her own, intent upon a mission of revenge.  While Bond eliminates von Hammerstein’s henchmen, she carries out her bloddy vendetta.

“For Your Eyes Only” was originally titled “Man’s Work,” then “Rough Justice” and “Death Leaves an Echo” before coming to its final title.  The story was adapted closely for the 1981 film version of the same name, combining it with “Risico” to fill and round out the story.

Much like Judy Havelock’s big screen counterpart Melina, the tension in this story is ratcheted up due to her uncertain nature.  On one hand, the drive for vengeance is all-consuming.  On the other, Bond knows she’s not a trained killer, so there are human factors to take into account, such as hesitation and fear.  Her mere presence is an obstacle for his own mission, but once he accepts her dedication to seeing it through (or more correctly, the fact that she will not leave), he’s able to compensate and see that it goes off as well as can be expected.

“Quantum of Solace”

This was the first of the five stories to be published, appearing in Cosmopolitan magazine in May 1959, the title of which (and nothing else) would be used for the film.  In a complete turn from expectation, Bond is merely a background character here, attending a boring dinner party with a group of upper class snobs that he barely tolerates.  Bond makes an off comment about air hostesses for the purpose of outraging the Governor of Nassau into some level of human conversation that he could listen to with only minimal participation.  The Governor takes the bait and tells a story of a relationship between his former employee Phillip Masters and Rhoda Llewellyn, a flight attendant.  They meet aboard a flight to London and, one thing leading to another, marriage results.  Eventually Rhoda becomes discontent with the idea of having everything she could ever want and begins an affair with Tattershall, a young golf pro.

When Tattershall tosses Rhoda aside, she knows her husband’s slavish devotion will still be there for her.  But when Masters returns home, he opts to end the marriage.  It’s an excellent commentary on how relationships end when there remains no remnant of humanity to keep it alive, which is where the story’s title comes from: “the amount of comfort” needed to keep relationships working against all other odds.  The marriage would appear from the outside to remain intact and happy for the sake of public perception and his job, but the story behind closed doors leads to a resolution that is one of the coldest things I’ve ever encountered without some level of physical or psychological violence.  It’s brutal, but not violent, with the same kind of cruel inventiveness that Fleming puts into some of his greatest villains.  The story serves as an eye-opener for Bond.  Before hearing the it, Bond had unknowingly passed judgment on Rhoda as being a bore who happened to sit next to him at the party.  Fate, he decided, played a far more cruel game than any government secret service.

The intimacy of this story is unlike anything else that Fleming has written.   In some ways, it’s the sort of thing that mirrors a different side of Fleming’s world.  As we know, Bond is a surrogate that allows Fleming to relive his own glory days with British Intelligence, so a 007 story was a way to dodge both his professional civilian life as a journalist and his personal married life.  It’s an interesting peek behind the curtain at the kind of thing that Fleming might encounter, without Bond or the life he represents to properly distract him.  It’s a rather masterful execution to show how dramatic and unpredictable real life can be, compared with the rather straight-forward nature of a cold and emotionless 007 mission.

“Risico”

Due to pressure from the Prime Minister, M sends Bond to investigate an Italian drug smuggling operation running narcotics into England.  Bond touches base with Kristatos, a CIA informant who tells Bond that the man behind the operation is Enrico Colombo.  Bond gets close to Colombo’s mistress, Lisl Baum, by posing as a successful author doing research.  He is captured by Colombo and brought aboard a ship.  While captive, Bond is told by Colombo that Kristatos is actually the one in charged of the operation, backed by the Russians.  While the ship is being loaded the next day, Bond, Colombo, and the crew attack the warehouse, discovering Kristatos inside.  Kristatos tries to escape, but Bond shoots him.

Aside from a quality Bond story with the classic bits in place, my overall takeaway is the Colombo character.  For a self-serving drug smuggler, he’s quite personable.  I kind of which he had shown up in one of Fleming’s later stories.

“The Hildebrand Rarity”

First appearing in the May 1960 issue of Playboy, Bond is on holiday with his friend Fidele Barbey in the Seychelles Islands.  Via Barbey, Bond meets Milton Krest, a millionaire who offers the two of them the job of aiding him in the search for The Hildebrand Rarity, a rare tropical fish.  Agreeing, the trio sets off with Krest’s wife Elizabeth aboard his ship.  En route, Bond learns that Krest abuses everyone around him, physically and verbally, especially his wife.  He punishes her with the use of a sting ray tail he calls “The Corrector.”  The fish is found, and the group returns to port.  Krest gets drunk along the way, insulting Bond and Barbey, and setting up another appointment for his wife with “The Corrector.”

During the night, Bond hears Krest choking.  He discovers that Krest has been murdered, the rare fish shoved into his mouth.  Avoiding becoming part of an official investigation, Bond tosses Krest overboard and cleans up the crime scene.  The next day, no one knows what happened to Krest.  It’s presumed he fell overboard.  Crying shame.  Bond investigates Barbey and Mrs. Krest for his own force of habit, concluding the obvious that Krest’s wife killed her husband in an act of revenge.  She never admits it, and Bond doesn’t ask.

Fleming has this ability to write nature that suggests a painter’s eye.  When he’s not thinking about Bond’s mission, his attention to detail of plants and animals is astounding.  As with his character examinations, you can see the observational skills in play that served him so well during the war.  Krest is specially-designed to be hated by both Bond and the reader at virtually every level.  Fleming pulled it off way too well, but it makes Krest’s fate that much more rewarding.

Reviewing the collection as a whole is made easy for me by the consistent quality of the stories.  As any reader knows, short stories are completely different animals from novels and as such need to be examined a bit differently. Turns out, while I certainly have nothing against the novels, I actually prefer Bond in the short story format.  Each of the five stories here offers not only an intrigue that the format pushes to a more urgent crescendo.  But what continues to impress me is that character development extends past Bond himself.  The spotlight given to M in “For Your Eyes Only” is handled with particularly deft efficiency, as I discussed, but the same really can be said of virtually every character in this collection.  You get an instant sense of who these people are with no sacrifice of depth and personality. Fleming’s standard fascinations with women, drink, food, cars, and weapons are all on display, but there’s also a more personal and reflective side offered here that might take new readers by surprise. Each of the stories deliver something different, and even the ones that start a little slow ramp up quickly and draw in the reader.

As always, Fleming’s abrasive manner of reference in regards to women and/or minorities also comes through.  Eight books in, I’ve more than blogged up a blue streak about this, and there’s simply no point in dwelling on such matters further.  It’s a sign of our times that such things are called out and improved upon, but as these books are products of their own time, place, and culture, new readers should always be made aware of it before stepping in.  I choose to let the high marks of the stories speak for themselves.

5 stars

For Your Eyes Only

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