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.

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