Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Subtext - James Bond


All right, gang, how about a scene offered up from the great Mickey Lee, who many of you may have noticed posting various comments here. Mickey is a devoted student of the craft, future screenwriter hall of famer, and all around great guy.

Thanks so much, Mickey. I love this scene...


This scene, from the movie “Thunderball”, written by the brilliant Richard Maibaum, is my favorite dialogue exchange in the entire Bond series.

Just to set up this scene, Bond escaped an underwater attack by SPECTRE by swimming to shore. Totally soaked, he hails a car, which just happens to be driven by the villain’s right-hand woman, Fiona Volpe.

Bond knows she’s the bad girl, and she knows he’s the good guy, but it’s too early in the game from them to reveal themselves to each other. Their dialogue sizzles with subtextual threats and one-upmanship.

I couldn’t find a copy of the original script, so I transcribed it from the DVD. The dialogue is original, but the descriptions in brackets are my own.


[Bond removes his wetsuit, and walks to the street. He flags down an approaching Ford Mustang. When it stops, he steps around to the passenger side to speak to the driver.]


JAMES BOND
Can I have a lift?

FIONA VOLPE (OS)
Sure.

[Bond gets into the car. Fiona Volpe sits behind the wheel.]

JAMES BOND
Thank you. You just about
saved my life.

FIONA VOLPE
Really?

[Fiona hits the gas and the car takes off.]

JAMES BOND
My outboard capsized so I had to
swim ashore. How far do you go?

FIONA VOLPE
You'd better fasten your safety
belt. What's your name?

[Bond eyes the speedometer as it passes 60 m.p.h.]

JAMES BOND
James Bond.

FIONA VOLPE
Fiona Volpe.

[The speedometer passes 80 mph. The car hurtles down the dark, country road. Bond eyes Fiona’s octopus-logo ring, identifying her as a member of SPECTRE. The car takes a hairpin turn.]

JAMES BOND
Do you fly here often?

FIONA VOLPE
Do I make you nervous?

JAMES BOND
No. It's just that I have no desire
to be capsized twice in one night.

FIONA VOLPE
At least you won't have to swim ashore.

[Bond looks down the road. The car picks up speed]

FIONA VOLPE
Have you been here before, Mr Bond?

JAMES BOND
No, I haven't. But this is the road to Nassau?

FIONA VOLPE
Yes. Eventually.

[The speedometer passes 90 on its way to 100 mph. The car flies down the dusty road. Fiona checks Bond for a reaction, but gets none. Bond doesn’t break a sweat. With a squeal of the brakes, the Mustang comes to a stop in front of the hotel.]

FIONA VOLPE
Well, this is as far as I go.

JAMES BOND
Yes, me too. This is my hotel.

FIONA VOLPE
What a coincidence!

JAMES BOND
Yes. So convenient.

[Bond and Fiona both exit the car and walk toward the hotel entrance.]

FIONA VOLPE
You look pale, Mr. Bond. I hope I
didn't frighten you.

JAMES BOND
Well, you see, I've always been a
nervous passenger.

FIONA VOLPE
Some men just don't like to be driven.

JAMES BOND
No, some men just don't like to be
taken for a ride.

13 comments:

crossword said...

Thanks as usual guys.

The very prolific Richard Maibaum was perhaps my very first exposure to subtext... I can't remember if Ian Fleming originally wrote all the innuendo, but even if he had then it wouldn't have JUMPED out like it did in these early Bond films.

You wonder where this native NY'r got this talent, given his living in Iowa for all those pre-WWII years (not dissing Iowa, just saying it's kinda sleepy nowadays, and frankly can't imagine what it must've been like in the early 1930's). Pretty amazing.

Wasn't there a lot of subtext around verbally sparring with the arch villain too? Perhaps I'm thinking of Dr.No. :)

Mickey Lee said...

Richard Fleming was a damn genius and one of my screenwriting heroes. If you look at the Bond films released during his lifetime (up until 1989), you'll notice that the weaker films are the ones where his name was absent from the credits!

Crossword -- Fiona Volpe wasn't in the novel Thunderball, she was a creation for the movie, so the credit is all Maibaums

And you are absolutely right, there was a great scene in Thunderball where Bond and Largo exchange subtextual threats during a trap shooting match. I was torn between which to submit, but I just love this scene so much. Typing it out doesn't do it justice. You need to watch it.

Mystery Man said...

I like the line, "Do I make you nervous?" In other words, "Are you a wimpy boy when it comes to my driving? Can't you take it? Are you intimidated by me? And by my sensational looks and skill? Are you afraid I will win our obvious battle, which we cannot talk about at this stage of our game?"

Mickey Lee said...

I love this part:

JAMES BOND
Thank you. You just about saved my life.

FIONA VOLPE
Really? [As in, believe me, that was the LAST thing I intended to do.]

crossword said...

"...there was a great scene in Thunderball where Bond and Largo exchange subtextual threats during a trap shooting match".

Thanks Mickey. I have the SP and intent to look it up as soon as I lay my little hands on it (still unpacking from a recent move).

You know, this dialogue still works today (as MM implied); I like it also.

Originally, I suspect it may have arisen as much because of censorship as an avoidance of on-the-nose dialogue, but reading stuff like this (frankly) makes me revisit scenes I'm currently working on to see where I can make improvements :)

Mystery Man said...

Hehehe... Yeah, that's a great line, Mickey. There's a lot of different ways an actor could say "Really?", too, but in the context of the scene, you KNOW how that "Really?" SHOULD be spoken. And I think this makes for a good point about parentheticals (or wrylies). In the context of a scene, if the writing is good, you don't need 'em. You just KNOW.

To Crossword's point, ya know, it's banter like this that makes going to the movies so much fun, that makes movies enjoyable scene-by-scene, because there's more going on than what they're saying. It seems to me that so much writing today is about "realism" and a writer's vanity because the writer is looking to immortalize his/her own special way of thinking & talking, when, in fact, screenwriting is really about mastery of CRAFT. And you can't help but love Richard Maibaum's work here, because of the craftsmanship of his work. And it's fun as hell!

Mystery Man said...

By the way, Len, with respect to your trying to see where you can make improvements in your own writing - GOOD FOR YOU!

For me, I would say that subtext is still the weakest aspect of my own writing, and in my spare time, I'm writing a story (not to sell or anything) that's designed to just help me master subtext.

Mickey Lee said...

Agreed guys, I too am brushing up on my current script, trying to bring it within even the same orbit as something like this.

And Crossword, I definitely agree. The fact that these writers from days of yore were forced by convention and censorship to write around the obvious made them stronger and more sophisticated scribes.

In todays era of shock and ironic detachment, dumping out the contents of one's brain seems to pass as edgy writing. I'll take the sly and oblique any day.

Unknown Screenwriter said...

I think it's interesting how we screenwriters tend to speak in subtext verbally throughout the day (as does everyone) and then when it comes time to get it on the page, some tend to write it more on-the-nose.

Good stuff...

Unk

Mickey Lee said...

That's a good point, Unk. Maybe it's because when we write, we're writing from our brains and not from our mouths. Big difference.

crossword said...

BTW mickey, MM, Unk... if you want me to make you a copy of this SP, just let me know (159 pages).

Mickey Lee said...

Crossword -- I'd love a copy of it. I could only get a copy of "From Russia With Love". You can get my email off my TriggerStreet page

Mystery Man said...

Hey, I'd love a copy, too!

PLEASE send it to me:

mysterymants@hotmail.com

-MM