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James Bond lied to us: Death by gold paint unlikely

If 50 years of James Bond movies have taught us anything, it's that virtually any gizmo will work, any super-villain will have a super-crazy quirk, and there's pretty much no situation our Double-Oh hero can't escape, often with a quippy double entendre to toss over his shoulder.

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Can you die from being covered in gold paint?

But what's the real scoop behind what the films show us? Just in time for the release of the latest Bond film "Skyfall," we tracked down experts in four fields: Dermatology, dentistry, drinks and death (the 007 variety) to suss out the truth behind the myth.

Does a "license to kill" actually exist?
Answer: Yes.

While real-life British MI6 agents may not live anything like the lifestyle of James Bond, the secret service's elite intelligence officers were permitted to kill enemies abroad, said Michael Smith, author of "SIX: The Real James Bonds." The practice goes as far back as the early 20th century; one agent was involved in the 1916 murder of the Russian Grigori Rasputin, and an attempt was made on the life of Egyptian President Abdel Gamel Nasser.

MI6 officers continue to operate around the world, and while there is no actual "license to kill," the 1994 Intelligence Services Act -- which Smith said was designed to formalize MI6's practices -- "gave intelligence officers the right to do anything that would otherwise be considered a criminal act in the UK, from murder to bigamy, so long as the mission is signed off by the Foreign Secretary," he wrote in an email.

Columbia Pictures

Daniel Craig as James Bond.

As for that "00" designation -- there was such a system in place. An MI6 station chief would be designated with 5 figures, the two-digit designator of the country he was based in, followed by 000. (Germany would be 12000, then; his first agent would be 12001, the seventh, 12007.)

But lest anyone think Britain is alone in sanctioning intelligence officers to kill if necessary, so did other countries. Smith noted that the Russian KGB had a name for assassinations: a "wet job."

Can you die if you're covered in paint?
Answer: Not as portrayed in 'Goldfinger' 

In "Goldfinger," Jill Masterson is smothered in gold paint, which either created or reinforced the apocryphal belief that being covered from head to toe in any substance would induce suffocation, since the skin is an organ. Nonsense, said David E. Bank, a dermatologist in Mount Kisco, N.Y. 

Humans, he said, take in oxygen through the nose and mouth. "We don't breathe through our skin," he said. "A person is not going to suffocate." 

Of course, if you dipped someone in molten gold, that would be a different story. "Then she would have burned to a crisp," he said. "To get gold to the point where it's a liquid you can plate on something, you'd burn the body to being unrecognizable."

Now, if the paint had toxic elements in it -- mercury or lead -- then someone covered in it could be poisoned. But that wouldn't be instantaneous, as it would have to penetrate into the individual's bloodstream.

"Mythbusters" looked into this phenomenon in 2009, and learned that while death didn't result, a painted person did undergo shifts in his blood pressure and body temperature.

Can someone have super-strength in their jaws thanks to wearing metal teeth?
Answer: No. 

One of the most beloved villains in the Bond universe is Richard Kiel's Jaws, the tall, imposing henchman who appears in "The Spy Who Loved Me" and, later "Moonraker." He's got incredible steel teeth (predating rappers and their love for "grills") and apparently a very strong jaw -- at one point he's shown tearing through a steel cable with his teeth. 

And while steel-covered teeth are a possibility, Matthew Messina, a dentist who practices in Ohio, said they wouldn't have that kind of tearing force. "We're still bounded by muscles and bone," he noted. "There's only so much power we can generate. He'd have an easier time with those plastic security devices they put on clothes in the store." ("Mythbusters" also came to a similar conclusion.)

"Moonraker."

He would also be at risk for magnets -- in "Spy," Jaws is lifted by a powerful magnet and carried into the air once it attaches to his teeth, something that could in fact happen, said Messina. 

But in the long run, steel-coated teeth would have a different kind of deadly effect: They would irritate the gums almost immediately, food could get trapped between them and the actual teeth, and cause tooth decay. It's some of the same issues Messina said he sees in non-precious-metal grills some people wear today: The gums get irritated and the cheaper metals contain nickel, which is poisonous if it gets in the bloodstream. And then, there's the tooth decay issue. 


"Even the actor would have had some very sore gums from wearing those prosthetics in the movie," he said. "He would also not be the guy you wanted to sit next to at lunch, owing to his bad breath."

Are martinis better shaken, or stirred?
Answer: Experts disagree. 

Traditionally, James Bond asks for his martini to be "shaken, not stirred." So is this the way to drink your concoction? The answer is as mixed as the drink.

Old-timers say never shake a pure spirit drink, said Tim Keller, director of beverage for TAO Group in Las Vegas. By shaking it (with ice), the alcohol gets diluted and murky, and the taste changes. "Vodka tastes as close to nothing as possible, so traditionalists say always stir it," he said. But others say shaking the drink releases antioxidants and it has a better health benefit -- not that most people are quaffing alcohol for the health properties. 

Keller says it's possible that when Ian Fleming wrote his books and the Bond films were first starting, shaking actually made more sense than it does today: Back then, vodkas were largely made with potatoes, and had an oilier taste that could be broken up by adding ice and water. But that's changed; vodkas today are made with a wide variety of vegetables and grains.

So what if you prefer a gin martini? That's a slightly different animal, said Keller. "People who drink gin are more particular in how they like their martinis made -- some like the ice cubes to be rinsed in it, for example. From my research in the first book Fleming wrote, Bond had a Gordon's gin martini."

But watch out: Asking for shaken not stirred may get you your drink, but probably won't earn you the respect of the bartender. "It's a little cheesy," said Keller.

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