Conversation is like champagne. You want it to be good enough to rise to the occasion. That’s my thinking, anyway, and I was listening for it when I went to see Spectre, the new James Bond film. In one scene 007 travels to an exclusive health clinic in search of a young woman who knows something. He finds himself sitting across a desk from her as she reviews his answers to a questionnaire. No surprise, she’s beautiful, and he delivers some clever quips. But what is his occupation, she wants to know.
“I see you left the last question blank. What is it that you do?”
“It’s not the sort of thing that looks good on a form,” he says. “I kill people.”
Not bad, plus Daniel Craig’s delivery is perfect. James Bond didn’t invent clever repartee, but he’s certainly added to the canon. We’d be disappointed if he didn’t order his vodka martini “shaken, not stirred” or introduce himself as “Bond. James Bond.” His creator Ian Fleming wrote 12 novels, but James Bond has spawned twice as many films so far and made stars out of several of the six men who’ve played him. (I say, extra shouts to Sean Connery and Daniel Craig) Some of the films have been much better than others, but the franchise wouldn’t have the staying power it does if novelist Fleming hadn’t tucked some memorable lines into Bond’s arsenal. And that includes the bad guys and the women.
“You only live twice. Once when you’re born and once when you look death in the face.” From You Only Live Twice.
“It’s just that I’d rather die of drink than of thirst.” From Thunderball.
“Most marriages don’t add two people together. They subtract from one another.” From Diamonds are Forever.
Bond’s good, but if you want your action with dialogue that sparkles like a fine champagne, my money’s on Raymond Chandler. His iconic detective Philip Marlowe walked the mean streets of Los Angeles long before Bond and cell phones lit up the world. Chandler wrote 7 novels. To read them is to want more. Hold out your glass for a taste:
“It was a blonde. A blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained-glass window.” From Farewell, My Lovely.
“Dead men are heavier than broken hearts.” From The Big Sleep.
“The French have a phrase for it. The bastards have a phrase for everything, and they are always right. To say goodbye is to die a little. ” From The Long Goodbye.
“I don’t like your manner,” Kingsley said in a voice you could have cracked a Brazil nut on. “That’s all right,” I said. “I’m not selling it.” From The Lady in the Lake.
“I don’t think I’d care to employ a detective that uses liquor in any form. I don’t even approve of tobacco.” (And Marlowe says:) “Would it be all right if I peeled an orange?” From The Little Sister.
I say cheers to great dialogue, and long live the writers to write it!