Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Bondage, Pt. 7: Diamonds Are Forever

This is the final Eon Productions Bond movie to star Sean Connery, although he'd later come back for the non-series Never Say Never Again in the Eighties. After George Lazenby turned down a seven-picture contract during On Her Majesty's Secret Service, the producers searched for another replacement Bond and considered John Gavin, Michael Gambon (who would later play Dumbledore in the Harry Potter movies, and who rejected the offer, telling the producers he was "in terrible shape"), and even Batman's Adam West, of all people. In the end, Universal told the producers to get Connery back, and that money was no object.

I've read conflicting reports of how much they paid Connery to come back, but the best evidence suggests it was $1.2 million, a then-outrageous sum which is about $15.9 million, adjusted for 2011 inflation. The company also agreed to back two projects of Connery's choice (one was a version of Macbeth, which Connery was to star in, but this was dropped when Roman Polanski produced a version at the same time).

So they got Connery back for one last time, and, in his own words: "They bribed me."

Synopsis: In this one Bond goes undercover to infiltrate a smuggling ring, and winds up discovering a plot by his old nemesis Blofeld to use diamonds to build a giant laser.

The Villain: It's Blofeld again, this time played by Charles Gray, who played a minor part as a Bond ally, Dikko Henderson, in You Only Live Twice. He's up to his old antics. The film opens with Bond discovering a facility in Egypt where plastic surgery copies of Blofeld are being made; Bond thinks he kills the "real" Blofeld by drowning him in hot mud. Alas, Blofeld survives and moves to Las Vegas, where he impersonates Willard Whyte (a Howard Hughes analogue) and rebuilds his empire. His plan is to use diamonds to create a giant laser with which he can, predictably, take over the world.

The Henchman: This time it's a duo that fills the role of henchman - Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd, homosexual assassins. Bruce Glover plays Mr. Wint - he is, incidentally, the father of actor Crispin Glover who played George McFly in Back to the Future, and they look a lot alike. I didn't realize that until writing this. Mr. Kidd is played by jazz bassist Putter Smith. Wanting two musicians, they offered the Bruce Glover role to musician Paul Williams first, but he held out for too much money. These two are often reviled as some of the worst Bond villains ever, but I think they're great. The homosexuality isn't played up for laughs or anything, but it does lend a sort of sinister Leopold & Leob sort of aspect to it. There is also another duo, this one female, "Bambi and Thumper," who try to beat up Bond at Willard Whyte's house.

The Bond Girl: The major one in this movie is Jill St. John, who plays diamond smuggler Tiffany Case. I agree with most critics' assessment of her as one of the least impressive Bond girls ever - true, she's gorgeous (perhaps one of the prettiest Bond girls) but as a character, she is "shrill and helpless." She's somewhat whiny and opportunistic. I found myself not really caring whether she lived through the end of the movie or not. But, she's pretty, and for a Bond girl I guess that's what counts. The other memorable girl from this movie is Natalie Wood's sister Lana Wood, who plays Bond's would-be girlfriend Plenty O'Toole, who gets a) naked, and then b) thrown out a window by mobsters.

The Sidekick: Since Bond is operating in U.S. territory for most of this movie, Felix Leiter is back. He helps organize a helicopter attack at the end of the movie, and Bond annoys him by running from Las Vegas police, leaving Felix to clean up the mess. This time Felix is played by Norman Burton, who portrays him as a kind of exasperated babysitter. Singing cowboy Jimmy Dean plays the Howard Hughes analogue Willard Whyte, who was kidnapped and impersonated by Blofeld. Dean was worried about playing the part, since he was an employee of Hughes' Desert Inn at the time. He would later become known for his signature brand of sausages.

Gadgets: In one of the silliest and/or most fun scenes, depending on how you look at it, Bond escapes from Blofeld's laser facility in a NASA moon rover, complete with waving robotic arms. The idea of Blofeld's orbital laser was poo-pooed by critics at the time, but doesn't seem so far-fetched now. Bond also drives a badass red '71 Mustang Mach I (it's actually Tiffany's car) in a classic car chase through Las Vegas. Bond manages to drive the car up on its side, among other ridiculous stunts.

Music: Shirley Bassey, who did the title track of Goldfinger, returns to sing this one. Apparently the producers didn't love it, and thought there was too much sexual innuendo. Indeed, composer John Barry later told reporters he told Bassey to pretend she was "singing about a penis."

The Director: This was Guy Hamilton's second stab at Bond, having previously directed Goldfinger. The producers chose him because they thought that was the best Bond movie so far and wanted to replicate it. Hamilton would later direct two more Bond films, Live and Let Die and The Man With the Golden Gun. Interestingly, Hamilton was active in the French Resistance during World War II.

Fun Facts: I was surprised to realize this, but Diamonds Are Forever is the last Bond film in which S.P.E.C.T.R.E. and Blofeld appear. It's true that a bald man who resembles Blofeld is killed in the pre-title action sequence of For Your Eyes Only, but he's not named. The reason for this is that the guy who'd been giving the producers trouble over the film Thunderball finally convinced courts that he, not Fleming, created S.P.E.C.T.R.E. The villain from the original novel is Goldfinger's twin brother. But producer Cubby Broccolli had a dream that his close friend Howard Hughes had been kidnapped and replaced with an imposter. This led to Blofeld impersonating Willard Whyte in the movie.

Favorite Line: I didn't even have to think twice about my favorite line in this movie, just because it's an odd quip that is hilarious without really making much sense. It's this exchange here:
Plenty O'Toole: Hi, I'm Plenty.
James Bond: But of course you are.
Plenty O'Toole: Plenty O'Toole.
James Bond: Named after your father perhaps?

Other: Another fun fact? The moon buggy was built on a Corvair chasis (my high school girlfriend's dad was obsessed with Corvairs, so they're one of the few cars I know much about). Finally, I thought it was interesting that the scenes in Tiffany Case's house were shot in Kirk Douglas' house. Connery himself choreographed some of the fight scenes. He apparently enjoyed himself in Vegas, and delayed shooting one day because he was collecting his winnings at a casino.

With this one, we say goodbye to Connery for the official series, though we'll see him again as Bond (unofficially) in the Eighties. Next up we look at Live and Let Die, which was Roger Moore's debut as Bond. He was no one's first choice, but he put his own twist on Bond and would play the part more times than any other actor ever did or will.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Bondage, Pt. 6: On Her Majesty's Secret Service

This one is definitely the odd man out in the Bond film series. Connery, having become sick of playing 007, hung up his Walther PPK and producers began casting about for a replacement. They tried Timothy Dalton, who would later portray Bond, but at the time he was 22 years old and felt he was too young for the role. Producers also talked to many established actors of the day, including John Richardson, Hans de Vries, Anthony Rogers, and Jeremy Brett (who would later have a great run as Sherlock Holmes). But despite the fact that all of those guys were name actors, it was a relative unknown, George Lazenby, who got the role. Producer Albert Broccolli later said it was Lazenby's "charm, arrogance, the ability to portray aggression" that won him the role.

Say what you will about Lazenby - he's got to be one of the bravest actors in film history. Stepping into Connery's shoes couldn't have been easy. Critics were not kind to him. That being said, the producers offered him a whopping seven picture deal, but halfway through filming this movie he said he'd only sign on for one. He felt that Bond would fade from popularity in the 1970s. He was wrong. The point is, they were going to give him the chance to build an audience, and I think he would have been accepted over time, but for whatever reason he gave it all up. Maybe he just chickened out, but he quit during filming, long before the bad reviews came in. Who knows? The truth is, though, I kinda like Lazenby as Bond.

Watching this movie after a solid run of Connery films, I can see why audiences were taken aback. Lazenby doesn't move like Connery. He's lankier, and walks with a bit of a bounce, entering the room with a bemused smile. Connery, on the other hand, coasted into a room like a shark or a panther or some other predator. But I still think folks would have gotten used to Lazenby over time. The truth is, about 20 minutes into this movie, I felt like I was watching James Bond. And the producers were right about his ability to display aggression: the fight scenes in this one are among the best ever put into a Bond film, and have a violence and intensity not seen again until bruiser Daniel Craig was given the role.

Another reason this one turned folks off (even though it made as much money as the other Bond films of the era) is that the producers decided to take a new direction with the tone of the movies. The producers decided to follow the novel very closely on this one, making it more realistic and serious compared to its predecessors, and the ending is a big fat bummer (spoiler alert: James Bond gets married and his wife gets shot in the head on their way to the honeymoon). That kind of a bring-down of an ending couldn't have helped.

But there is much to recommend this movie, and when I rank all of the Bond films at the end of this series, it will be nowhere near the last on the list. Let's jump into the categories:

Synopsis: Blofeld of S.P.E.C.T.R.E. is at it again. This time he plans to poison the world's food supply by sending out his "Angels of Death," girls from all over the world who have been brainwashed in his fake allergy care facility in the Alps. Meanwhile, Bond is offered $1 million to marry the daughter of a crime lord (Bond saves her from committing suicide in the pre-title action sequence). He refuses, but romances her as long as the crime boss helps him track down Blofeld. He does, goes undercover in Blofeld's camp, and foils the plot. He falls in love with the girl and marries her - only to learn that you don't get to mess with S.P.E.C.T.R.E. and live happily ever after.

The Villain: It's Blofeld again, only this time he's played by Telly Savalas (who, incidentally, started off as a sports announcer). They replaced Donald Pleasance because in this film, Blofeld does some skiing, some shooting, and fisticuffs and it was felt Savalas was better-suited for the physicality of the role. He's pretty good as Blofeld, if a little forgetful (he just met Bond in the previous film, but in this one doesn't recognize Bond despite a very flimsy disguise). In this one, he's holding the world's food supply for ransom so that he can be granted immunity for his crimes in the previous films and be formally recognized as nobility. Bond poses as a gay heraldry expert who is going to help prove Blofeld's noble credentials - that's how he sneaks into Blofeld's fortress, anyway. During that whole time, by the way, Lazenby's voice is dubbed by the actor who played the character he's supposed to be impersonating, which gives Lazenby the impression of having bad vocal timing here and there.

The Henchman: It's another female henchman this time, Irma, who wrangles the Angels of Death and helps Blofeld try to kill off Bond (she appears in numerous Bond novels but only one movie). It is she who actually pulls the trigger on the gun that kills Bond's wife. The actress, Ilsa Steppat, died only four days after the film was released.

The Bond Girl: Diana Rigg, who had been on TV's The Avengers, was chosen to play Tracy di Vincenzo, whose father is a crime lord who for some reason is friendly with the British Secret Service. She is depressed and suicidal at the beginning of the film. She tries to drown herself, and Bond saves her - only to get beaten up and watch her run away in his own car. Here, Lazenby brazenly breaks the "fourth wall," looking at the camera and saying, "That never happened to the other fella." Anyway, Bond slowly falls in love with Tracy, and even passes up the chance to have sex with her, preferring to wait until they are married. Unfortunately, she dies before that can happen, making Tracy the only Bond girl who Bond never slept with, and the only one he actually loved.

The Sidekick: There really isn't one, although Tracy's father, Marc-Ange Draco, helps out quite a bit, and Tracy herself is cast in a sidekick role after Bond's escape from Blofeld's mountain fortress.

Gadgets: In keeping with the movie's strong adherence to the novel, Bond doesn't really have any over-the-top wacky gadgets in this one. However, there is an interesting scene after he argues with M and decides to resign from the secret service where he cleans out his desk and packs away several gadgets from the previous movies, with the theme song from each film briefly swelling. It's a nice touch that presumably served to remind us all that this is the same character who had all those other adventures, even if it's a new actor.

Music: The producers again broke with tradition on this one and did not use a vocal pop song for the opening credits, instead using a pretty awesome spy-themed instrumental piece. The Louis Armstrong Orchestra was brought in with it's depressing-as-hell "All the Time in the World," the theme song for Bond and Tracy's doomed love that plays over a "dating 007" montage in the middle of the movie.

The Director: This time it's Peter Hunt, who worked on all the other films as an editor and who had long lobbied for a chance to direct. Here, he gets it. "I wanted it to be different than the any other Bond film would be," Hunt said. "It was my film, not anyone else's". The result is a fine Bond movie, despite its departure in tone from the previous ones. In fact, film critic Leonard Maltin said if this movie had starred Connery, it would have been the best film in the entire series. That being said, Hunt never worked on another Bond film.

Fun Facts: Much of this is covered in the introductory paragraphs that open this installment; however, it's also worth noting that in this movie, we hear specifically that Bond is actually Scottish, not British, even though he serves in the Royal Navy and British intelligence services, a fact made clear in the novels but never before (or again) on film. Also, here's a fun photo of Diana Rigg displaying the assets that made her a Bond girl.

Favorite Line: It's gotta be the afore-mentioned "That never happened to the other fella." Incidentally, Lazenby has an autobiography due out next year called "The Other Fella." Another funny line is when a girl touches Bond under the table at dinner in Blofeld's fortress, which arouses and surprises him. Irma, the henchman, asks him what's the matter and he says "It's just a slight stiffness coming on."

Other: The best parts in this movie is the sequences with M and Moneypenny. Bond actually quits the service in this one after M orders him off the hunt for Blofeld. Moneypenny doesn't write the memo that way, though, and instead requests two weeks' leave. There's a scene where Bond is cleaning out his desk (the only time we ever get to see Bond's office at Mi6) and the wedding scene is really sad for Moneypenny, and actress Lois Maxwell will break your heart with the look she gives Bond before he drives off with his wife.

All in all, I think this movie is better than a LOT of other Bond movies, some of which, are, frankly, stinkers (we'll get to some of those in the 1970s). Lazenby may not have Connery's style, but he could have pulled it off if anyone (including himself) had been willing to give him another film or two. I think his performance was fine, and he only suffers in comparison to Connery. It should be noted that Lazenby is still very well received by fans at Bond-related conventions, and over time, the fashion among critics is to give this movie, and Lazenby, a second chance.

So here's to the Other Fella.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Bondage, Pt. 5: You Only Live Twice

We're approaching the end of the Connery era, but not quite yet. This next installment, You Only Live Twice, was the first Bond movie to basically abandon the books. While the others at least kept elements of the plot from the novels they were based on, You Only Live Twice only used some of the same names and locations and took a totally new take on the story.

First of all, a correction from the last installment: I misquoted Connery's spiteful remark about Bond. What he actually said was "I'd like to kill the bastard."

Synopsis: S.P.E.C.T.R.E. is at it again, with Blofeld himself at the reigns this time. The evil organization builds a spaceship that captures both American and Soviet craft, with the inevitable result that each blames the other. Nuclear war is threatened, which is exactly what S.P.E.C.T.R.E. wants - for the Cold War powers to annihilate each other so that S.P.E.C.T.R.E. can pick up the pieces. Bond has to travel to Blofeld's secret base in an extinct Japanese volcano and put a stop to it all.

The Villain: It's Ernst Stavro Blofeld, S.P.E.C.T.R.E.'s "Number One." The producers finally bowed down to repeated requests from filmgoers to see Blofeld's face - previously, only his cat-petting hands had been shown. Donald Pleasence plays Blofeld, though his voice sounds nothing like the deep, menacing voices previously used for Blofeld. Pleasence was brought in to replace another actor who wasn't "menacing" enough. They gave him a scar on one eye that no other Blofeld ever had afterward - presumably he had surgery or something. Pleasence's go-round as Blofeld isn't bad, but frankly, he doesn't seem quite evil enough to me. The most enduring aspect of Pleasence's performance here is as the basis for the parody character of Dr. Evil in the Austin Powers movies.

The Henchman: Helga Brandt, played by Karin Dor, is the secretary of Mr. Osato, a Japanese industrialist who is secretly in thrall to S.P.E.C.T.R.E. She's also a S.P.E.C.T.R.E. assassin who manages to capture Bond early on. But she fails to kill him (as they always do) so Blofeld has her fed to piranhas, making her possibly the only henchman to be killed by her boss on purpose. Mr. Osato is also technically a henchman, I guess, though he isn't the type to get his hands dirty. Blofeld also has a tall, blond bodyguard in the Red Grant mold named Hans, who is sort of a minor henchman.

The Bond Girl: This movie followed a "three girl formula," they say, and they counted Brandt as one of the girls. The other is Aki, who is an early contact of Bond's in Japan. She works for Tiger Tanaka, head of the Japanese secret service, and saves Bond's bacon a few times by pulling up in her smart little convertible at the right moment when he's being chased. Later, she is poisoned by S.P.E.C.T.R.E. assassins while she is sleeping. Finally, Bond hooks up with ninja agent Kissy Suzuki (who ranks highly on the "cheesy Bond girl names" meter). Bond is disguised as Japanese (which he accomplishes by shaving his chest, combing his hair into bangs and squinting his eyes) and Kissy poses as his wife in order to get close to Blofeld's headquarters without arousing suspicion.

The Sidekick: I guess Kissy is a pretty good sidekick, because she follows Bond into battle in Blofeld's secret fortress. But she works for Tiger Tanaka, the Japanese version of M, who shows James around the country, teaches him how to be Japanese, and trains James Bond to be a ninja in just a few days. Helpfully, he provides an army of ninjas to help Bond take down Blofeld's men in the big climax of the movie.

Gadgets: Well, first of all, there is the ridiculous spaceship-eating rocket that S.P.E.C.T.R.E. has, which is capable of flying into space, enveloping a Gemini-sized capsule, and returning to Earth. Blofeld's fortress is in an extinct volcano, and it has a roof disguised to look like the surface of a lake. It retracts when evil rockets need to exit or enter, so it can't be seen by American satellites. As for Bond's gear, the big star of this one is "Little Nellie," a tiny one-man helicopter equipped with rockets, machine guns, and a bunch of other lethal goodies. Q brings it to Japan in several small cases and assembles it in a few minutes. Bond uses it to search for S.P.E.C.T.R.E.'s hidden base. The machine was real, and during filming, its rotor blades chopped off a cameraman's foot, interrupting the shoot.

Music: The vastly overrated Nancy Sinatra sang the title song for this one, which references Bond's fake death at the beginning of the movie. It's also a line in the film: Bond says, "This is my second life," to which Blofeld replies, "You only live twice." Sinatra was nervous about her voice, and said she sounded like Minnie Mouse. Another, less well-known singer had already recorded it, but apparently someone made someone else an offer they couldn't refuse, and the song was re-orchestrated to fit Nancy's limited range (did Frank's people have a severed horse head put in producer Albert Broccoli's bed, maybe?). Perhaps I shouldn't pick on her so much, I've just never really thought she was that great. She actually does sing the song well, and it got a lot of radio airplay at the time. It was distinctive at the time for having an Oriental feel to the horn parts in the beginning.

The Director: Lewis Gilbert was an odd choice - he was known for character dramas and had just scored a big surprise hit in 1966 with Alfie, starring Michael Caine. He'd end up doing two more Bond movies after this one. They say he was pretty reluctant at first, until the producers told him he'd be directing for "the biggest audience in the world." The writer, Roald Dahl (more on him below) praised Gilbert for not trying to change the script while filming, which apparently had plagued other productions.

Fun Facts: The original screenplay was written by Harold Bloom, but the producers didn't like where he was taking the story. They kept a few elements but went to a writer who had virtually no experience in the film world. He did, however, have the benefit of being Ian Fleming's close personal friend. That was the incredible Roald Dahl, who would write a host of charming and sometimes macabre children's novels such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, George's Marvelous Medicine, and James and the Giant Peach. My son grew up on Roald Dahl books, and I read many of them with him. It was a nice surprise when I watched the opening credits and saw Dahl's name. I'd never noticed or made the connection before.

Favorite Line: It's subtle, but my favorite line from this movie is when Helga Brandt captures James Bond. She says, "I've got you now," to which Bond replies, "Well, enjoy yourself." Later, Tanaka says to Bond, "In Japan, men come first, women come second." Bond replies: "I just might retire to here."

Other: This isn't really about the movie, but in the novel You Only Live Twice, Bond gets amnesia after the final attack on Blofeld's fortress, and he ends up believing his cover story of being a Japanese fisherman. He lives with Kissy Suzuki for a few months and fathers a child by her. The character resurfaces in a non-Fleming Bond novel as "James Suzuki." I guess the kid would be about 44 years old now. But if we're going chronologically, Bond would be about 86. So I don't think anyone's paying attention. :)

After this one, Connery told the producers he was definitely out, and the search began for a new Bond. They ended up with George Lazenby, who audiences didn't particularly take to. But I think that may have had more to do with the fact that the producers decided to change direction with the next film, not only with the cast, but with the tone. They wanted to do something that was more serious and realistic, and whether they succeeded is, of course, up to each individual. Next up, we'll look at Mr. Lazenby's single Bond outing: On Her Majesty's Secret Service.

My feelings about this one surprised me very much. Stay tuned.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Bondage, Pt. 4: Thunderball

It had been a long time since I'd seen this one, so it held my attention a little better than the others so far. Let's just jump right in, shall we? But first, a fun fact: Johnny Cash submitted a version of the theme song that was not used. That would have been weird, huh? Well, see and hear for yourself!

Synopsis: Bond travels to the Bahamas to deal with a plot by S.P.E.C.T.R.E. No. 2 Emilio Largo to use hijacked nuclear missiles to destroy an American or British city unless he is paid a ridiculous sum of money.

The Villain: This time it's high-ranking S.P.E.C.T.R.E. agent Emilio Largo, who has a penchant for yachts, card-playing, and eye patch-wearing. He is played by Italian actor Alfonso Celi, who, like Goldfinger, had his voice dubbed in to make it more understandable. Largo is certainly not my favorite Bond villain by any stretch, but he gives 007 more of a run for his money than some others. Honestly, I don't have really strong feelings about Largo one way or the other.

The Henchman: Some might say the Henchman in this film is Vargas, Largo's personal assistant, who is said to have given up smoking, drinking, and sex in order to focus on murder. But as he's killed rather handily by Bond on a beach with one shot of a speargun, he doesn't really live up to his reputation. No, the true Henchman in this movie is Fiona Volpe, played by Luciana Paluzzi, a fiery and resourceful motorcycle-driving redhead. The character was supposed to be Irish, but the producers changed the character's last name to reflect Paluzzi's accent. Fiona joins Grace Jones as one of the few female henchmen in the series.

The Bond Girl: Domino, the mistress to Largo, who murdered her brother, is pretty but run-of-the-mill as far as Bond girls go. The actress, a former Miss France, beat out Faye Dunaway, Julie Christie, and Racquel Welch for the part. Legend has it this was after she told the producers that she "enjoys being with older men." She took English lessons but they still had to dub her voice in anyway, which more-or-less confirms my theory that no Bond girl was ever chosen for her acting ability.

The Sidekick: Say hello again, Felix Leiter, who brings his buddy Pinder along for the ride. The CIA is pretty closely involved with Bond on this one, as he's operating very close to their shores (just like in Dr. No). Since consistency of character portrayal is something that never bothered the producers, they went this time with a new actor, Rick Van Nutter. Felix provides some vital support for Bond at the finale of the film - a really, really, really long underwater fight scene. But mostly he just follows Bond around in a helicopter.

Gadgets: They started getting way out there on this one. It all starts in the pre-title action sequence, when Bond takes off in a flying backpack after assassinating a S.P.E.C.T.R.E. agent. Bond also gets a tiny little device that lets him breathe underwater, along with standard wet suits and spearguns. The "sky hook" that saves Bond at the end of the movie is actually real and was in use by the American government at the time to extract agents.

Music: The original song for this movie was called "Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang," after a name for Bond coined by an Italian journalist; it was recorded by both Shirley Bassey and Dione Warwick. But the producers felt that it just wouldn't do to have a song that didn't feature the title of the movie, so John Barry scored one at the last minute and they gave it to Tom Jones. Jones has a ridiculous, over-the-top, unnecessarily dramatic voice, and it works perfectly here. Jones later said he passed out in the recording studio after holding the final note of this song for too long.

The Director: Terrence Young, who directed the first two Bond films, returned for this one. It would be his last. He deserves credit for tackling some pretty tough underwater filming - about a quarter of the movie features underwater scenes.

Fun Facts: Believe it or not, this is the first Bond movie to feature Connery in the iconic opening gun barrel scene. The earlier ones actually aren't him, but a stuntman named Bob Simmons. They re-shot this sequence because Thunderball was the first Bond film to be shot in Panavision so they had a chance to throw Connery in there. Also, the opening credit sequence was the first to feature actual nudity, though it was obscured by shadow, making it the first Bond movie to technically have nudity.

Favorite Line: "My dear girl, don't flatter yourself. What I did this evening was for Queen and country. You don't think it gave me any pleasure, do you?" - Bond to Fiona after they make love. Another good, if obvious, line is "I think he got the point" after Bond spearguns Vargas.

Other: This movie was plagued with legal disputes that weren't ultimately settled until 2008, and are the reason there was a non-series Connery comeback in the Eighties with Never Say Never Again. It seems Ian Fleming, the author of the Bond books, had developed a screenplay with another guy way before the Bond movies started shooting, in a prior, failed attempt to get a film made. Later, he dusted it off and turned it into Thunderball, the ninth book in the series of novels. The other guy sued, got his name on the film as a producer, and retained the rights to a bunch of characters and elements of the plot. The producers treated him with kid gloves because they didn't want a rival Bond film that they had nothing to do with. They needn't have worried - it would take until 1983 for that nightmare to come true with Never Say Never Again (the title is a reference to Connery saying previously he would "never again" play the secret agent). Never Say Never Again has so many similarities to Thunderball that it might as well be a remake.

From what I've read, this is where the honeymoon ended for Connery. He was not even on speaking terms with one of the producers by this time, was angry about the press intruding on his life, and wanted to move on. He announced after the end of this one that he'd do only one more. As it turns out, he did two (or three, if you count Never Say Never Again) more. He actually refused to do interviews about the film with anyone other than Playboy. It seems he was already in the toupee by this time, as well. I believe it was about this time when Connery was famously quoted as saying, when asked about how he felt about James Bond:

"I hate the bastard."

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Bondage, Pt. 3: Goldfinger

This one, the third in the series, is where they finally hit the nail on the head. It was more successful than the previous two Bond films combined, and had twice the budget. It made its money back in two weeks, and Goldfinger is considered by many to be the quintessential Bond film, at least of the Connery era. It is the first to feature the title song over the opening credits, and is the first to have a pre-title action sequence that has nothing to do with the plot of the movie.

I'm going to try a different format this time and stick with it (I may go back and edit my previous two entries to match this format). As usual, I am indebted to IMDB and Wikipedia for fun facts.

Synopsis: Bond investigates gold smuggling by gold magnate Auric Goldfinger and eventually uncovers Goldfinger's plans to attack the United States Bullion Depository at Fort Knox, with the aim of setting off a Red Chinese nuke and irradiating the U.S. gold supply.

The Villain: Auric Goldfinger, a portly, red-haired evil gold magnate. He likes to win at all costs and is frustrated by Bond, who mocks him early in the film and later during a golf game. He's very good at playing cat-and-mouse with Bond, however, and is one of the first to capture Bond, tell him his entire plan, then leave him in a death-trap of some sort. One of these days, you'd figure the Bond villains would simply shoot him in the head and have done with it...Interestingly, the actor Gert Frobe was chosen based on a role where he played a child molester; his English was too poor and they dubbed in his voice with actor Michael Collins. Another interesting fact: Frobe was a member of the Nazi party, but supposedly hid Jews from the Gestapo. Goldfinger was banned in Israel until families came forward to thank him for saving them from Nazis.

The Henchman: The henchman in this one is Oddjob, who I believe is said to be Korean. He is mute (although he can sort of grunt) and has a signature move: throwing his bowler hat, the rim of which is lined with metal, to do things like break people's necks. Actor Harold Sakata was badly burned during his death scene, where he is electrocuted, but stoically stayed in character until they yelled "Cut!"

The Bond Girl: There are, arguably, two, or even three, in this movie, but the main one is Pussy Galore, who gets the prize for most ridiculous Bond girl name ever, hands down. Played by Honor Blackman (who also is in Jason and the Argonauts, another of my favorites from the Sixties), she's Goldfinger's personal pilot and runs an all-girl flying circus. She also knows Judo, but not better than James Bond, who uses his superior skill to manhandle her in a barn. Since she's the one he ends up making out with at the end of the movie, she's basically the official Bond Girl. But we can't forget Jill Masterson, who helps 007 in the beginning and get smothered in gold paint for her trouble. Her sister, Tilly, later tries to kill Goldfinger. She teams up with 007 for a while but is killed by Oddjob's hat.

The Sidekick: Once again we have Felix Leiter, making his second appearance. This time he's played by Cec Linder, who replaced Jack Lord. Apparently Lord demanded equal billing with Connery and too much money. He calls in the cavalry in the form of the CIA at the end, and otherwise spends his time watching Bond through binoculars and applauding whenever Bond seduces a woman: "That's my James!"

Gadgets: This film introduces Bond's Aston Martin DB5, which has oil slick, smokescreen, machine gun, bullet-proof glass, revolving license plates, and more...He also has a nifty homing device he can hide in his shoe that comes in handy.

Music: The theme song, Goldfinger, performed by Shirley Bassey, is performed over the opening credits for the first time. This is my favorite Bond theme song. It has really good lyrics and her trumpet-like vibrato fits the mood. Bassey has done more theme songs than any other performer (three - Goldfinger, Diamonds Are Forever, and Moonraker).

The Director: Guy Hamilton, who directed four Bond films (this one, plus Diamonds Are Forever, Live and Let Die, and the Man with the Golden Gun) was brought in to replace Terrence Young, who had directed the previous two films. Young chose not to direct after a pay dispute. Hamilton had originally turned down an offer to direct Dr. No.

Fun Facts: Orson Welles was originally approached to play Goldfinger, but his financial demands were too high. That's too bad. I can't think of a better person to play a Bond villain than Welles.

Favorite Line: In the pre-title sequence, a girl is kissing James and is poked by the gun in his shoulder holster. She says "Why do you always wear that thing?" and he quips, "I have a slight inferiority complex." Other standouts include Connery saying "Shocking...positively shocking," after electrocuting a guy in a bathtub, and the great line from Goldfinger in this exchange (Bond: "Do you expect me to talk?" Goldfinger: "No, Mr. Bond...I expect you to die!").

Other: Just because I haven't mentioned her yet, this was Lois Maxwell's third time in the role of Miss Moneypenny, who enjoys an indefinite and unconsummated flirtation with Bond all the way up until the end of the Roger Moore era. I think she's prettier than she gets credit for (she suffers in comparison to all of the Bond girls but is quite attractive, especially in this early photo). Bond should have paid more attention to her.

Overall, I think Goldfinger may be my favorite of the Connery films, though I'll reserve judgment on that until I see them all again. It certainly has all the right ingredients. A classic moment is at the very end when Bond is trying to turn off a ticking nuclear bomb - it eventually stops seven seconds from detonation (the readout says "007").

Next up is one I haven't seen too many times, so I'm looking forward to it: Thunderball.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Bondage, Pt. 2: From Russia With Love

This is the second Bond movie, and it begins some traditions that will last for decades. My first impression watching this one again recently has been its utter lack of subtlety. One of the first shots in the credits is the number "007" projected onto the shaking boobs of a dancing girl, an image that says a lot about the James Bond mythos.

In this one, Bond is (knowingly) lured by S.P.E.C.T.R.E. into a trap; a beautiful Russian cypher clerk sees Bond's file and falls in love with him, supposedly; she sends word she wants to defect and bring the Russian's Lektor code machine with her. The Russians themselves have nothing to do with it - it's S.P.E.C.T.R.E.'s plan - but she thinks she's working for Mother Russia. Her mission is to pretend to fall in love with Bond, but, of course, she really does fall in love with him. I won't bother with more of a plot synopsis than that.

This movie is the first to have a pop theme song (titled the same as the movie). You don't hear singer Matt Monro until the closing credits, but an instrumental version opens the movie. The song was written by John Barry, who composed the overall music. This starts a strong tradition of pop theme songs that will eventually include everyone from Louis Armstrong to Madonna, though they won't be performed over the opening credits until Goldfinger.

Another Bond first in From Russia With Love is Desmond Llewlyn as Q. He would hold the role from 1963 to 1999, appearing in more Bond movies than any other actor. In this one, he gives Bond his first true gadget - a briefcase that contains hidden knives, poison gas, and emergency gold. It comes in handy later versus the movie's main henchman.

The Henchman is another Bond tradition that starts with this movie. Here, it's Red Grant, played by Robert Shaw. The villain is ultimately pussycat-petting Ernst Stavro Blofeld, Bond's S.P.E.C.T.R.E. nemesis who is shown here for the first time (only his hands - in fact, only a "?" is credited for the actor who plays him). But the actual mission is run by Rosa Klebb, a ex-spymaster for the Russians, who is memorable for kicking people with the retractable spikes in her sensible shoes, and she's technically the "villain" of this movie. The girl in this one is Tatiana Romanova, played by Daniela Bianchi, who, like Ursula Andress before her, had a dubbed-in voice.

Connery is in fine form in this one, refining the Bond role and injecting it with a bit more humor. Here is an interesting fact about Sean Connery I bet you didn't know.

This movie was the basis for the video game of the same name, which featured all-new voice work by Connery (though it was funny to see his young likeness speaking with a sort of old-sounding voice). This game was too hard for me, and I never made it very far.

Next up, one of my favorites: Goldfinger.