Thursday, October 01, 2015

Monsieur le Duc, Meet Mr. Bond...

I should not have been surprised to learn that Ian Fleming's Bond series of novels was inspired by Dennis Wheatley's earlier success with the Duke de Richlieu and his intrepid team of adventurers. The Forbidden Territory came out in 1933, featuring the Duke and Simon Aaron on a perilous journey into Soviet Russia to rescue their friend Rex van Ryn. While the next turn, The Devil Rides Out, turned to the supernatural, Wheatley wrote other espionage adventures and they were popular. A list of all his novels gives you an idea of where his imagination roamed.

Ballantine Books' 1971 edition of Wheatley's famous novel


But by the time Fleming came along with Bond, I imagine readers were ready for more sex and violence, but what amuses me is the similarity in their writing styles and their sensibilities.

1959 edition of Ian Fleming's James Bond novel

The casual, upper middle class racism stands out. Also the casual drinking. In Devil Rides Out, for example, Rex makes more than a few mid-day cocktails for Tanith and himself during a stopover at the Duke's 'cottage' on their trek across the English countryside. No worries about drunk driving in those days, apparently.  

Interesting that, although he blazed the trail in a sense, Wheatley saw none of the success of his books translated into film the way Fleming did with Bond, even though he outlived Fleming.  The Devil Rides Out remains the most famous of the four films based on his books--and in spite of its still impressive production design, as Christopher Lee often lamented, from the get-go the film suffered from unforgivably low-budget visual effects.


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