Thursday, 16 August 2012

The Oblique Reference to Felix Leiter in Moonraker (1979)

The James Bond films of the Roger Moore era (1973-1985) are not renowned for their numerous appearances of Bond’s old CIA friend Felix Leiter. In fact, the only Moore era Bond film to feature Leiter was Live and Let Die (1973), where David Hedison played him in the first of two appearances in the role. Hedison was an old friend of Roger Moore’s, and had appeared in The Saint and later appeared in the films North Sea Hijack (aka ffoulkes) (1979) and The Naked Face (1985) opposite Moore. Hedison and Moore shared genuine screen chemistry in Live and Let Die, perhaps due to the fact that the actors were also friends in real life. Perhaps one of the reasons for the lack of appearances for the Leiter character in the six Moore Bond films that followed was that Leiter only appeared in one of the novels that was filmed, The Man with the Golden Gun, although he did not appear in the film version of this novel either. Another possible explanation is that the Leiter character also did not appear in any of the Ian Fleming Bond short stories, and as Moonraker was the last Fleming Bond novel (omitting the then unavailable Casino Royale) to be filmed by Eon Productions in 1979, thereafter the producers and writers relied on the short stories instead. It could of course be submitted that the films Dr. No (1962), The Living Daylights (1987) and Quantum of Solace (2008), which all featured Leiter, were adapted from titles by Fleming where Leiter did not feature as a character. The lack of appearances for Leiter during the lengthy Moore era, after his initial appearance in 1973, therefore remains something of a mystery, especially as Leiter’s unfortunate mauling by a shark, which featured in Fleming’s Live and Let Die (1954), was not actually filmed until the Timothy Dalton era in Licence to Kill (1989), meaning there was again a lengthy absence for Leiter onscreen until Casino Royale (2006).

However, the character of Felix Leiter is also obliquely referred to in Roger Moore’s fourth James Bond film, Moonraker (1979). This film represents the only time even an oblique reference is made to Leiter in the Moore era after the character’s initial appearance in Live and Let Die. The reference occurs in the scene where James Bond surprises Dr Holly Goodhead in her Venice hotel suite after his fight to the death with Hugo Drax’s henchman Chang. In the scene, which also features in the novelisation of the film, James Bond and Moonraker (1979), by screenwriter Christopher Wood, Bond searches Holly’s hotel suite and variously reveals: a slim gold retractable ball-point pen with a hypodermic poison needle, a dart-firing pocket diary, a flame-throwing small Christian Dior scent atomizer, and a handbag concealing a telescopic aerial and radio. In the novelisation, Wood has Bond further reveal dart-firing spectacles, a powder compact concealing a blade, a lipstick holder containing a miniature detonator and explosive charge and a Zippo lighter equipped to squirt the irritant chemical Mace in the face of an attacker. In the film, when Bond is confronted with all of this conclusive evidence pointing to Holly’s background in American intelligence, the dialogue in the scene is as follows:

BOND: “Standard CIA equipment and the CIA placed you with Drax, correct?”
HOLLY: “Very astute of you, James”
BOND: “Oh, not really. I have friends in low places.”
HOLLY: “Could this possibly be the moment for us to pool our resources?”
BOND: “It could have its compensations.”1

There then follows the first kiss between Bond and Holly. From this moment on in the film, the two reluctantly work together as partners to investigate the affairs of Hugo Drax, the billionaire industrialist behind the Moonraker space shuttles. To the astute James Bond fan watching Moonraker, Bond’s line about having “friends in low places” would appear to be a reference to Bond’s old CIA friend Felix Leiter. A look at the scene as rendered in Wood’s novelisation of the film bears out such a contention:

“Bond tossed the handbag on to the bed beside its contents. ‘I’ve seen this equipment before, Holly, and it wasn’t in Macy’s.’ He paused for a moment before he crossed to a drinks trolley. ‘It was being developed by the C.I.A. An old friend of mine, Felix Leiter, gave me a sneak preview.’ Bond turned his back to throw some ice cubes into a glass and top it up with Chives Regal. ‘I think you probably know him.’ There was no reply from Holly. ‘Because it occurs to me that the C.I.A. placed you with Drax. Correct?’
He waved a hand towards the trolley in invitation. Holly shook her head. ‘Correct.’ Her face softened into a conciliatory smile. ‘Could it be that this is the moment for us to pool our resources?’
Bond studied Holly over the top of his glass. It was the first time he could remember her smiling like that. So warm. So guileless. So insincere. He put down his glass. ‘That might have its compensations.’
Holly took a step towards him so that she was close enough to be touched. Her long silk gown could have been tied tightly across her low-cut nightdress but it was not. Bond drew her to him and kissed the corner of her mouth gently. His eyes were still suspicious.”2

Bond’s reference to Felix Leiter in both the film (in an oblique manner) and novelisation of Moonraker is an attempt to show his bona fides to Holly; that they are actually working on the same assignment, albeit from different sides of the coin. It is interesting to note that the mention of Felix Leiter acts somewhat as a springboard for Holly to accept Bond as an ally, and from there on in the story they work together as a team. The Bond continuation author John Gardner used a similar technique in his third Bond novel, Icebreaker (1983), when the CIA agent Brad Tirpitz also tries to persuade Bond of his bona fides by making reference to Felix Leiter and his daughter Cedar Leiter:

“‘Look, Bond.’ Tirpitz moved his chair closer. ‘I’m glad Kolya’s not here. Wanted a word with you alone.’
‘Got a message for you. Felix Leiter sends his best. And Cedar sends her love.’
Bond felt a strange twinge of surprise, but he showed no reaction. His best friend in the U.S.A., Felix Leiter, had once been a top C.I.A. man; while Felix’s daughter, Cedar, was also Company-trained. In fact, Cedar had worked gallantly with him on a recent assignment.
‘I know you don’t trust me,’ Tirpitz continued, ‘but you’d better think again, brother. Think again, because maybe I’m the only friend you have around here.’
Bond nodded. ‘Maybe.’”3

The literary device of name-checking Felix Leiter to a potential ally therefore occurs twice in the “continuation” Bond literary canon, but Bond’s line about his having “friends in low places” is all that remains in the film version of Moonraker as a rather veiled reference to the old CIA ally and friend with whom he shared so many adventures in print and on screen. The same scene as enlarged in Wood’s novelisation provides the confirmation that Bond is referring to Leiter at this point, and it would have been pleasing to have had this more overt reference to Leiter and the CIA remain in the finished screenplay.  After Leiter’s initial appearance in the Moore era in Live and Let Die the character was sadly not to reappear until Timothy Dalton took over the role in The Living Daylights. Instead, the Moore era had a succession of other Bond allies from the sublime Milos Columbo in For Your Eyes Only (1981) and Vijay in Octopussy (1983) to the ridiculous Sheriff J.W. Pepper who featured in Live and Let Die and The Man with the Golden Gun (1974). The character of Felix Leiter (especially as played by David Hedison) would have been a very welcome addition to some of the later Moore era Bond films, but sadly this was not to be. It is therefore perhaps fitting that the space-age Moonraker, a film that many critics and fans regard as one of the most outlandish entries in the entire James Bond series, should contain at least a veiled reference back to one of Bond’s best friends and so hint to the audience that although the Bond films (and sometimes even the Bond novels) can at times verge into the realm of pure fantasy, Bond’s enduring and believable friendship with his American CIA friend Felix Leiter shows that they can also often be grounded in reality.

This article originally appeared on the Main Page of the now defunct website of my friend Chris Wright (Righty007) as a Guest Article there on Friday 29 January 2010.

TBB Article No. 13

© The Bondologist Blog, 2010.

1 Moonraker (Eon Productions, 1979).
2 Christopher Wood, James Bond and Moonraker, (Jonathan Cape Ltd, 1979), chapter 10.
3 John Gardner, Icebreaker, (Jonathan Cape Ltd, 1983), chapter 8


  1. It's interesting that the hardware heavy and rather fantastical film version of Moonraker could have some "down to Earth" moments, such as the one described above. Intriguing stuff.
    I don't think I ever made the Leiter connection, possibly due to the film's tone, but also due to the unflattering associations with "low places". (Although, it would seem Bond is sparring with Holly for sparring's sake, rather than setting out to diminish Leiter.)
    Plus, I never read Wood's novelisation!

  2. Yes, there are some interesting reflective moments in Moonraker, and as you say, this is one of them.