This article was originally written for a 2020 issue of the Birth.Movies.Death magazine – a James Bond-centric issue which, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, was never published.
James Bond is nothing without gadgets. Neither are his enemies, who delight in deploying a wild range of clandestine devices. Many such gadgets are clearly identifiable weapons, but for every portable nuke and moon laser, there’s a humble household item that hides a more personal demise. If Bond is honest with himself, he could barely get out the door in the morning without encountering a dozen potential death-dealers.
Bond movie weapons have been concealed in a number of one-off items – lightbulbs, alarm clocks, teddy bears, parking meters, ghetto blasters, and a particularly cringeworthy dummy of a sleeping Mexican – but other objects recur throughout the Bond canon. We’re worried about James, so here’s a guide to some of the many everyday things he should always double-check.
It’s become a punchline, thanks to parodies like Austin Powers, but booby-trapped furniture is no joke when you’re on the receiving end. Q Branch tested knife-loaded chairs and ejector-equipped pouffes in The Spy Who Loved Me, and a couch that eats people in The Living Daylights, but it’s really Blofeld’s iconic boardroom chairs that inspire the most fear. Electrocuting insubordinates at the touch of a button, Blofeld’s swivelling death-traps don’t just kill you, but terrorise your remaining colleagues too. It’s bad HR policy, but we’re not brave enough to question it.
Few clothing items in the Bond universe haven’t proven deadly. The most famous is the razor-rimmed hat wielded by Oddjob in Goldfinger, but it’s not the only article nor the first. That honour belongs to the poisoned shoe knives in From Russia With Love, wielded most famously by SPECTRE third-in-command Rosa Klebb. GoldenEye’s belt and Diamonds Are Forever and For Your Eyes Only’s suspenders aren’t weapons, but their in-built grappling devices certainly could be. Perhaps the most dastardly costume of all lies in Diamonds Are Forever, in which Bond conceals a rather nasty hand trap in his very pocket. Not the kind of thing you want to forget you have equipped.
Bond really should use the stairs more, because elevators are dangerous. Many Bond films feature villains attacking 007 in a close-quarters lift environment, but elevators themselves have been weaponised also. In Diamonds Are Forever, Blofeld rigs an elevator with gas to incapacitate Bond, but the worst elevator in the world belongs to Karl Stromberg from The Spy Who Loved Me. Ride that elevator, and you risk being plunged through a trap door into a shark tank, where Stromberg will watch as you’re feasted upon. A bit excessive, perhaps, but on-brand for someone with a literal underwater lair.
FOOD AND BEVERAGES
Poisoned wine is child’s play in international espionage. Blonde, blue-eyed Living Daylights henchman Necros wields milk-bottle *hand grenades*, which are sure to unravel his milkman disguise. In Diamonds Are Forever, assassins Mr Wint and Mr Kidd make numerous attempts on Bond’s life, the final of which involves a cake – “La Bombe Surprise” – with a bomb inside. Unfortunately for Mr Wint, their attempt is exposed – then he’s thrown overboard tied to the bomb. And as Q Branch circa The Spy Who Loved Me teaches us, the very tray upon which your food is served could have a lethal edge.
Don’t get too cocky if your opponent comes at you with a limb in a cast. An arm cast came spring-loaded as a blunt instrument in For Your Eyes Only, while Q is seen testing a leg cast and wheelchair-mounted missile launcher in GoldenEye. Other assistive equipment can’t be trusted, either: see The World Is Not Enough, in which Valentin Zukhovsky (Robbie Coltrane) uses his walking stick as a gun, or A View To A Kill, where Max Zorin’s (Christopher Walken) cane is used as a remote steroid injector for racehorses. Given his hobbies, James Bond can’t afford to experience, er, certain side effects of steroids.
TOILETRIES AND MAKEUP
Dental hygiene is important for everyone – even superspies. Using Dentonite-brand toothpaste as seen in License To Kill, though, would clean the teeth off one’s face, the face off one’s head, and probably the head off one’s body. Word of advice: never confuse your tube of toothpaste with your tube of high-yield plastic explosives. Elsewhere, You Only Live Twice femme fatale Helga Brandt attacks Bond with a lipstick gas grenade, while Moonraker’s CIA agent Holly Goodhead wields a perfume bottle that doubles as a flamethrower. Keep away from the bathroom cabinet, James.
Granted, Bond wields the tricked-out Ericsson JB988 cellphone in Tomorrow Never Dies, but the inclusion of a stungun in the handset means he can’t trust another mobile again. But even if he wanted to go analogue, phone booths are out of the question. As seen in GoldenEye, the technology now exists for phone booths to deploy enormous airbags to form a suffocating trap. Best learn to use smoke signals, or Semaphore flags, or something.
Watches are key to the Bond franchise. Every new film sees a major announcement as to which make of watch Bond will wear. As a bonus, Bond watches house weaponry and gadgets with an alarming frequency. Though many sport non-lethal gadgetry – The Spy Who Loved Me’s telex machine, Thunderball’s Geiger counter, Octopussy’s homing tracker – others are less benign. Robert Shaw’s SPECTRE assassin Donald “Red” Grant wields a watch-mounted garotte in From Russia With Love. Both GoldenEye and Never Say Never Again stuck frickin’ laser beams onto Bond’s wristwear. Moonraker’s watch doubled as a remote detonator, and Live and Let Die featured a watch with a bullet-deflecting electromagnet – and a miniature sawblade just big enough to cause a nasty accident. Very fashionable indeed.
“The pen is mightier than the sword,” they say, and as Q proclaims in GoldenEye, “thanks to me, they were right.” Q Branch outdid itself in that film with a pen-mounted hand grenade activated – and deactivated, to much suspenseful confusion – by clicking it three times. Pens have dispensed poison (Moonraker) and acid (Octopussy), and in Never Say Never Again, Bond wielded a fountain pen that was just a straight-up gun. So many pens concealed weaponry across the series, it’s treated as a joke when, in Skyfall, Q asks, “Were you expecting an exploding pen? We don’t really go in for that anymore.”
What anyone thinks of bagpipe music’s potential to injure listeners is beside the point: bagpipes are deadly in Bond’s world. A bagpipe machine gun was used as a joke in the 1967 spoof Casino Royale, but it became a terrifying reality in The World Is Not Enough – further enhanced with a flamethrower. Bagpipes: played at funerals, and cause funerals.
Smoking is bad for Bond’s health – and his career, given how much heavy breathing he does both in and out of the field. But cigarettes are even more dangerous for Bond than for the average smoker. They’ve borne cyanide (Dr. No), bullets (Casino Royale ‘67), stun gas (The Spy Who Loved Me), and darts (You Only Live Twice), and in Tomorrow Never Dies, a cigarette lighter played the role of a hand grenade. The ultimate expression of smoking-related weaponry is the titular pistol in The Man With The Golden Gun, made up of a cigarette case, a cigarette lighter, a pen, and a cuff link. Even non-cigarette smoking paraphernalia is dangerous: The Spy Who Loved Me saw the introduction of a hookah machine gun. It’s only a matter of time before we see a vape laser or some such thing.
Those things’ll kill ya.