Wednesday, April 11, 2012

50 Years of 007 - Diamonds Are Forever

Blofeld bothers Bond and Cody in the (double-O)seventh film.

One of the objectives Eon Productions had as they were putting together their seventh James Bond film was to have it in some ways emulate Goldfinger. Goldfinger director Guy Hamilton was hired to direct, with the backing of several of the same main crew members; cinematographer Ted Moore, production designer Ken Adam, composer John Barry. Shirley Bassey would again perform the theme song.

They also wanted the film to be more American. They had the right source material to do that, working from Ian Fleming's fourth Bond novel Diamonds Are Forever, which is set primarily in the United States. In it, James Bond is given the task of bringing down a diamond smuggling ring being operated by American mobsters, led by brothers Jack and Seraffimo Spang. Bond's assignment takes him from a New York racetrack to Las Vegas casinos and eventually a ghost town in the Nevada desert called Spectreville (no connection to the SPECTRE organization, which hadn't been thought up yet.)

Screenwriter Richard Maibaum had a different idea for the main villain - taking the new film's Goldfinger connection even further, his script featured Goldfinger's twin seeking revenge for his brother's death.

The Americanization of the film extended into the search for the new actor to play Bond. The idea of casting TV Batman Adam West was floated around before they decided on another American actor. John Gavin, known for playing good guy Sam Loomis in Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, was officially cast to play James Bond 007 in Diamonds Are Forever.

John Gavin on The Doris Day Show in 1971

David Picker, president of distributor United Artists, was more interested in an alternative casting choice. He wanted Sean Connery back. Connery was offered a great deal - if he would return to play Bond one more time, he would be given the record-breaking amount of $1.2 million, which would go toward the launching of the Scottish International Education Trust, and he 
would also have a two-picture non-Bond deal at UA. There was just one more problem: Connery wasn't happy with the script.

Screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz was hired to do a fresh draft, which would drop Goldfinger's twin brother and incorporate a new idea that was literally dreamed up by producer Albert R. "Cubby" Broccoli. Part of the plot was based on a nightmare Broccoli had, in which he was outside the window of his reclusive friend Howard Hughes' penthouse and saw that Hughes had been replaced by a total stranger.

The first forty pages of Mankiewicz's rewrite were sent to Connery and, satisfied with how things were shaping up, Connery agreed to the deal. John Gavin's services wouldn't be required, so he was paid in full for playing Bond in the film without ever stepping in front of the camera.

The book that followed the On Her Majesty's Secret Service novel was You Only Live Twice. Set eight months after OHMSS, YOLT dealt directly with the emotional aftermath of the murder of Bond's wife Tracy at the end of the preceding novel. Bond is deeply depressed, he's lost the zest for his work and for life as a whole. He's bungled the jobs he's had in the months between the books, he's become accident prone. When not on the firm's time, he's been gambling and drinking excessively, and he has trouble sleeping at night.

With the film following On Her Majesty's Secret Service being titled Diamonds Are Forever, you might think that they'd be able to tie that in to the pursuit of revenge for the murder of a newlywed bride as well, but it's really left up to personal interpretation whether Diamonds is connected to that event. At no point in the film is there any reference to Bond's marriage or Tracy.

Bond is on an intense search for Blofeld as the film begins, but the first location he's in is Japan, where we last left Connery-Bond at the end of You Only Live Twice.

Bond knocks a man around through the paper walls of a Japanese home, asking "Where is he?", "Where's Blofeld?" The man stutters out "Cai-Cai-Cairo", a memorable bit of funny-sounding ADR. This takes Bond to a casino in Cairo, where he knocks some more info out of a gambler. The gambler sends Bond to ask a woman named Marie where Blofeld is.

Marie is sunbathing in a bikini when Bond walks up to her. He introduces himself, "My name is Bond, James Bond." As in Dr. No and On Her Majesty's Secret Service, the reveal of his face is held off until he speaks this line. In the Japanese home and Cairo casino he was just a voice and violent limbs.

Marie asks Bond if there's anything she can do for him. "There is something I'd like you to get off your chest." With that, he whips her bikini top up around her throat - for a split second, you can see actress Denise Perrier's bare breasts in this PG movie - and uses it to strangle Blofeld's whereabouts out of her.

We find that Blofeld, now played by Charles Gray (an actor who had played a different character, a short-lived ally to Bond, in YOLT) and having grown a full head of hair, is planning to use plastic surgery to make some of his henchmen look exactly like him. With doppelgangers, he'll be even harder to locate. The operating room that has been set up in a cave is equipped with mudbaths, a nod to a chapter in the novel that was set in a mud and sulphur bathhouse.

Bond arrives at Blofeld's hideout and infiltrates the operating room by subduing one of the surgeons and taking his smock and medical mask. He drowns a man he believes to be Blofeld in mud, but it's just a lackey who was being prepped for the plastic surgery.

Blofeld and a couple machine gun-toting guards enter the operating room and confront Bond. It seems he's been captured... until one of the guards reaches into Bond's jacket to confiscate his gun and instead gets his hand caught in a mousetrap-like device. This gives Bond the edge to make quick work of the guards, then he knocks Blofeld onto a gurney, straps him down and pushes him into a pool of bubbling mud. There's a temperature control on the pool, so as Blofeld sinks beneath the surface, Bond cranks the temperature up to a boil. "Welcome to Hell, Blofeld."

Has Bond really already gotten his revenge and taken out his longtime nemesis by the time Maurice Binder's diamond-centric title sequence begins? For the time being, that does seem to be the case, and when the Bassey song and the titles reach their end, Bond is talking with his boss M and we're assured that it's a fact. "May I remind you, 007, that Blofeld's dead. Finished. The least we can expect from you now is a little plain, solid work."

Bond feels that shutting down a diamond smuggling operation is beneath the 00 section, but it's the assignment he's being given. Bond and M have a meeting with Sir Donald Munger, an expert on the diamond industry, to be briefed on the smuggling problem.

Mankiewicz made a mistake in the writing of this scene, when Munger serves Bond a glass of sherry. With a sip, Bond identifies the sherry as a '51. Mankiewicz didn't realize that there is no year for sherry, but when this was pointed out to him, he turned the mistake into an example of Bond's extensive alcohol knowledge. By '51, he meant the original 1851 vintage on which the sherry was based.

Bond doesn't know as much about diamonds, so Munger begins telling him how the industry works. In a clever bit of juxtaposition, Munger's talk of airtight security and the loyalty of workers plays over a montage of how the smuggling pipeline begins. As workers dig diamonds out of mines in South Africa, some hide them in their mouths. The workers then go to the on-site dentist, Doctor Tynan, who retrieves the diamonds and pays them off.

Despite their precautions, Munger continues, smuggling has gone up alarmingly over the past two years, and strangely none of the smuggled stones have reached the market. Someone is stockpiling them. As the meeting comes to an end, Bond is expecting to be sent to the source, "I always fancied a trip to South Africa." But he's not going there, he's being sent to Holland.

It's interesting that Bond was looking forward to going to South Africa in 1971, yet that's one location that the series has never filmed in. Skyfall got close to going there, but in the end they opted to shoot the sequence that would've been filmed there in Turkey instead. The scenes set in South Africa in this movie were actually filmed in Nevada.

By the time Bond is being sent to track down the head of this smuggling operation, it's already being shut down. A couple very odd hired assassins named Mister Wint and Mister Kidd are killing off everyone involved as the last batch of diamonds make their way along the pipeline. Wint and Kidd are waiting for Tynan in the South African desert, where he usually delivers the diamonds to a helicopter pilot named Joe. They talk Tynan into giving them the diamonds, then kill him by dropping a scorpion into his shirt. When Joe arrives, they deliver to him a case containing what they claim is the diamonds from Tynan. As Joe's helicopter flies away, it explodes. Pleased with their work, Wint and Kidd walk off hand-in-hand.

The next person along the line is a little old lady, a schoolteacher named Mrs. Whistler, who's the one to deliver the diamonds to Amsterdam. She's quite excited to be going there, she can get pictures of the canals to show the children. Wint and Kidd kill her offscreen, but watch from a bridge as her body is pulled out of a canal. Kidd begins snapping pictures of her waterlogged corpse, "pictures of the canal" to send back to the kids. Wint thinks this is a lovely gesture. "How kind of you, Mister Kidd." I find this moment to be highly disturbing.

Bond is to infiltrate the operation by posing as a professional smuggler named Peter Franks. Franks is detained at customs before entering Holland and Moneypenny, wearing a customs uniform, gives Bond his Franks passport and sends him on into the country. As he's about to leave, Bond asks Moneypenny what he can bring her back from Holland. She replies, "A diamond. In a ring." Seems uncouth for her to say that if Bond had lost his wife.

Under the guise of Peter Franks, Bond meets up with the smuggler's contact, going to the apartment of Tiffany Case. Tiffany is barely dressed, in just her underwear and a see-thru negligee, an outfit which Bond compliments, "That's quite a nice little nothing you're almost wearing." She tells Bond to make himself at home while she gets dressed. He pours himself a drink and she takes the glass into the next room to add ice... but before she adds the ice, she takes Bond's fingerprints off the glass. She has a machine in her closet that shows blown-up images of Bond's fingerprints and Franks'. They match.

Tiffany is wearing a long blonde wig when Bond first sees her. When she gets the ice for his drink, she's wearing a brunette wig. When she's satisfied that he's the man he's supposed to be, she finishes dressing and walks out to talk to him with her natural red hair. Seeing this, Bond comments, "I don't care much for redheads." After dealing with Fiona Volpe in Thunderball and Helga Brandt in You Only Live Twice, I guess you can't really blame him.

Tiffany reveals the smuggling job that Franks/Bond needs to pull off - get 50,000 carats into Los Angeles, which would apparently be something like 22 pounds of diamonds. If he's successful, he'll be paid $50,000.

After his meeting with Tiffany, Bond gives a call to Q to let him know that his fake fingerprints worked quite well. In the background in Q's lab, there's a cameo by the Aston Martin DBS, and it appears that some technicians are about to load it up with rockets. Q lets Bond know that Peter Franks killed one of the guards escorting him to London and has escaped.

Bond rushes back to Tiffany's, where the real Franks is headed for the meeting that Bond already had. Franks boards the building's elevator and Bond joins him, pretending to be a helpful local. "You are English? I speak English. Who is your floor?" As they take the ride up toward the third floor, Bond attacks... But the elevator is small and these guys are both over 6 feet tall, so it's a very cramped fighting space. As soon as Bond pulls his arm back for the first hit, his elbow shatters the glass on the side of the elevator. The fight continues out of the elevator up onto the fourth floor, and Bond comes out the victor by knocking Franks over a railing and down to the third floor.

Franks' body lands near Tiffany but she stays back, allowing Bond to switch wallets with him before he drags the body into Tiffany's apartment, so when she checks his I.D. (a Playboy Club card) - "You just killed James Bond!" Apparently Bond is a household name among smugglers, despite the fact that he had no interest in them before this.

Franks' escape proves to be quite fortuitous for Bond, as his corpse is now the perfect way to smuggle the diamonds, packed into his alimentary canal. Hopefully by mouth. A coffin containing the body is loaded onto a plane, with Bond pretending to be a grieving brother. The plane flying Bond, Tiffany, Franks and the diamonds into Los Angeles also has Wint and Kidd as passengers. Wint is clearly not pleased when Kidd mentions that Tiffany seems quite attractive. "For a lady."

When they land in L.A., Bond is greeted by another ally posing as a customs officer. This time it's C.I.A. agent Felix Leiter. As usual, Leiter has been recast, and in this film he's played by Norman Burton. His Leiter is very grumpy, often coming off as more of an annoyed authority figure to Bond instead of a friend and colleague.

Bond and the corpse are then picked up in a hearse by a trio of mobsters, who drive him into Nevada. I'm not sure who the third mobster is, but one is played by extremely prolific character actor Marc Lawrence, who started his film career in 1932 and in 1996 had a small role as a foul-tempered old man in one of my most-watched movies, From Dusk Till Dawn. The other mobster is also very familiar to me - it's Sid Haig, a popular actor among genre fans, who was at the start of a successful streak of appearances in exploitation movies at this time and has had a major resurgence in recent years.

The next stop is at the Slumber Inc. Funeral Home, run by Morton Slumber. Franks is cremated and the ashes/diamonds delivered in an urn to Bond, who also gets an envelope full of cash. With his role in the operation complete, it's time for Wint and Kidd to kill Bond. They knock him out, stick him in a coffin and slide him into a crematorium.

It looks like Bond's toast, until he's pulled out of the fire by Slumber and the next person in the pipeline, a man called Shady Tree. Shady Tree is upset that the diamonds are glass fakes. Fake like the money that was going to burn up in the envelope in Bond's pocket. Bond says that when he gets the real money, Shady Tree will get the real diamonds.

One of the first impressions Bond gets of Shady Tree in the novel is that the man "wasn't at all funny." Perhaps this line was the inspiration for Shady Tree's legitimate occupation in the film - he's employed as a stand-up comedian at the Lincoln Lounge in the Whyte House hotel and casino. A comedian who isn't at all funny.

The Whyte House, owned by extremely wealthy recluse Willard Whyte, is actually the Las Vegas Hilton with a towering addition matted onto it.

Wint and Kidd are unaware that the diamonds haven't successfully moved on down the line, so when Whyte House manager Bert Saxby notifies them that they need to keep Shady Tree alive, it's already too late. Tree has been cut down.

Bond strolls around the Whyte House, observing, spotting Shady Tree's corpse in his dressing room, then hitting the game room to play craps with the counterfeit money he got from Slumber. Gambler groupie Plenty O'Toole ("Named after your father, perhaps.") joins him at the table and watches in awe as he wins $50,000 worth of real cash.

Plenty O'Toole doesn't have much to do in the film, but the fact that she's played by Lana Wood makes her one of standout girls of the series to me, based almost entirely on her attractiveness alone. I attended a panel Q&A featuring Wood at the Cinema Wasteland convention at the end of March and she talked a little about working on Diamonds Are Forever. She heard the filmmakers were interested in her and was told to "act tall" when she went in to audition. Being just 5'3", she attempted to look taller by wearing hot pants and high heels. She thought Connery was the perfect James Bond and, as far as she was concerned, he was the only James Bond until the casting of Daniel Craig. No other actors have come close to Connery and Craig, she especially thought Roger Moore made a dreadful Bond, though he's a wonderful man in real life. She said that she's friends with Moore and has told him in person that she didn't like how he played the character.

Bond and Plenty go back to his room, but they don't make it to the bed. The hearse mobsters - now joined by a fourth man - are waiting for them and toss Plenty out an open window. Luckily for her, she lands in a swimming pool, a pool that the mobsters didn't know was down there. The mobsters then exit the room, leaving Bond to discover that Tiffany is waiting for him in bed.

Bond and Tiffany discuss some diamond business, but quickly get down to pleasure. She is the only woman who Bond sleeps with in this film (thanks to the mobsters interrupting him and Plenty), the first time in the series that he's only gone to bed with one woman, that wasn't even the case in the movie where he fell in love and got married.

Postcoitus, the talk continues between a cigarette smoking Tiffany in bed with Bond, who has the ashtray resting on his chest. Not the classiest Bond moment. Tiffany assures him that she can get him safely away with the diamonds. They can be on a plane to Hong Kong by the next night. Since he's under surveillance, Tiffany will have to be the one to retrieve the diamonds.

The real diamonds were brought into the country by Q, and Bond tells Tiffany that they can be found at Circus Circus, a hotel and casino that also features, as the name implies, an indoor circus. Leiter and his men are watching Tiffany's every move as she looks around the place. She's given the diamonds in a stuffed animal after winning a rigged game, then manages to escape the building and Leiter's agents.

Tiffany had no intention of really meeting up with Bond after she got the diamonds, but she finds him waiting for her at her place when she returns later in the day. In her swimming pool is the body of a drowned Plenty O'Toole. A case of mistaken identity; with Tiffany having gotten the diamonds, her job was done, and it was time to take her out of the equation. Bond comments that Plenty must've come there looking for Tiffany... which is odd.

Plenty's role was almost cut in half, two of her scenes were deleted. In one, she and Bond had dinner together before going up to his room. She must've really liked him, because she turned out to be very persistent and apparently jealous. Her other deleted scene has her returning to Bond's room right after being thrown out the window, still soaking wet from landing in the pool, and being angered by the sounds of Bond and Tiffany in the bedroom together. She spots Tiffany's purse and searches through it, and the following day she apparently went to Tiffany's house to have a throwdown. But found Wint and Kidd there instead.

Bond takes this time to let Tiffany in on some facts about what's going on and to convince her to assist him. She leads him to the airport, where the stuffed animal is picked up from a locker by Bert Saxby. Spotting the next link in the pipeline, Bond and Tiffany recognize Saxby, "Willard Whyte's right hand man." Tiffany tells Bond a fact about Whyte - he lives in the penthouse at the top of the Whyte House and hasn't set foot out of it in three years. No one has even seen him during that time.

Diamonds Are Forever isn't as faithful to its source novel as most of the movies before it were to their literary counterparts, but doesn't stray as far as You Only Live Twice. It follows a path similar to the novel's until around this point, when the Howard Hughes dream-inspired Willard Whyte element really comes into play. Then the story becomes something completely new.

Tiffany and Bond follow Saxby as he leaves the aiport. She's driving her awesome red 1971 Mustang, Saxby is driving a green 1971 Ford Econoline van, just like the van the kids in 1974's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre get around in. Saxby's van, The Texas Chainsaw van

Saxby pulls into a gas station, parks at the pumps and trades vehicles with another man, leaving the diamonds in the van. Bond wants to get a closer look at what's happening now, so Tracy blocks the van with her Mustang and makes a spectacle of herself, distracting everyone so that Bond can climb into the back of the van. Not even the guy who's parked behind the van notices Bond, so you know she does a good job.

Jill St. John's performance as Tiffany is one of my favorite things about this movie and her beauty combined with the tough-talking, self-assured character makes her one of my favorite Bond girls. The gas station scene is really the pinnacle of her greatness in the film, from here she starts to slide downhill into clueless damsel territory.

The van's new driver is a scientist, Professor Doctor Metz, who takes the diamonds and the hidden Bond to the Whyte Tectronics laboratories out in the desert. Bond manages to bluff his way into the building with a worker named Klaus Hergersheimer. The surname Hergersheimer is an in-joke, as "hergersheimer" is what Guy Hamilton would call things he couldn't think of the right word for, his version of "whatchamacallit". Bond then gets into Metz's lab by pretending to be Hergersheimer.

While Bond looks around the lab, Metz gets a phone call from Willard Whyte himself. Before his cover is blown, Bond manages to overhear Metz telling Whyte that something is "finally here" and there's now enough for completion.

As Bond is chased off the property, he finds himself in a room that's made up to look like the surface of the moon. Under the supervision of some men in a control room, a couple guys in spacesuits are going through a training exercise or something, faking a lunar landing for no clear reason. Whatever they're doing, these astronauts are fully committed to staying in character, because as Bond runs past them, they continue their slow motion "we're on the moon" type of movements as they unsuccessfully attempt to impede his escape.

Bond steals their moon buggy, drives it right through the wall of the building and off through the desert, pursued by security guards in cars and on three-wheeler ATVs. This chase is more silly than exciting, but it's quickly followed by a better vehicular chase. As Bond and Tiffany eventually get safely away in her Mustang, the security guards put in a call to the Sheriff's office, so the Mustang ends up pursued by cops through the streets of Las Vegas.

The cops chase the Mustang into a dead end alley... but when Bond tips his vehicle over onto two wheels, he's able to drive it out through a small space at the end of the alley. The cops are not able to pull off the same stunt. When the Mustang enters the small space, it's riding on the passenger wheels. Due to a filming mistake, when it exits the other end, it's riding on the driver's side wheels. They "fixed" this problem by editing in a moment between entering and exiting where the camera tilts in a way to imply that Bond is somehow easily able to get the car to switch sides midway. It makes no sense, just go with it.

Bond and Tiffany check into a bridal suite at the Whyte House, complete with a waterbed with fish swimming within it. There's almost another shot of bare breast during their time on the waterbed, but it appears that Jill St. John was equipped with pasties. Despite the protestations of Washington via Felix, who do not want him to contact Willard Whyte, Bond is intent on giving the recluse a visit. He gets on top of an elevator and rides it as far as it will go, then does some urban mountaineering to climb onto the roof on the building and then drop down into Willard Whyte's penthouse of solitude.

Once Bond is in Whyte's penthouse, we see the cinematic version of Cubby Broccoli's nightmare. Bond enters Whyte's office to find that the man has been replaced by someone else. The novel has Spectreville, the film has the head of SPECTRE. Ernst Stavro Blofeld is still alive.

It seems that Bond only managed to kill one of Blofeld's plastic surgery doubles during the pre-title sequence. He does the same during their confrontation in this scene. There are two Blofelds in the penthouse to choose from, and he chooses to kill the wrong one.

Blofeld has been able to steal Willard Whyte's identity through the reclusive lifestyle - it wasn't hard to replace someone who hasn't been seen for years. During this scene, it's said that it's been five years since Whyte was seen, though Tiffany said three years earlier. Whyte only communicated with others by phone, so Blofeld has a voicebox gadget installed in his neck that allows him to sound just like Whyte. Bond is impressed, "Well, that's a neat trick." A technobabble explanation of the voicebox that Mankiewicz wrote for Gray to deliver was cut down a bit at the actor's request, leading to Blofeld mentioning that "Science was never my strong suit, but the principle's easy enough." A nice line, but it's not quite true to a character who developed a new virus in the previous film and has some science based plans going on in this one.

After Bond kills the wrong Blofeld, the real one sends him out of the penthouse. Bond is knocked out with gas and taken away by Wint and Kidd. Wint and Kidd have been racking up a bodycount throughout the film and have killed their victims on the spot without much fuss, but when they're given the task of killing Bond this time, they completely bungle it. This is even a much worse attempt on Bond's life than Helga Brandt trying to trap him in a crashing plane by putting a piece of wood across his lap. It's just ridiculous. Wint and Kidd decide to kill Bond by driving him out into the desert and leaving him in a pipe, so he'll be in the pipe when it's buried the next morning and then he'll be killed when the auto-welder machine runs through to seal it up. Bond regains consciousness and when the auto-welder comes at him, he just hops on top of it and shorts it out. Blofeld should have Wint and Kidd assassinate themselves for coming up with this plan.

Back in action without a scratch (and wearing a pink tie), makes a call up to Whyte's penthouse while Leiter supervises and Q works a gadget that makes Bond's voice sound like Bert Saxby's. Voice changers are no big deal for Q, he made one for the kids last Christmas. As Saxby, Bond tells Blofeld that things are getting too dangerous, he's scared of Bond and there are agents all over the Whyte House, they have to move the real Willard Whyte. Blofeld reveals where Whyte is being held - his own summer house just outside town - and sends "Saxby" out there to kill him, he's outgrown his usefulness. After they hang up, Bond and Leiter head for Whyte's summer house and Blofeld makes a call to Metz, saying that all plans are being moved forward 24 hours.

At the ridge-top summer house, Bond runs up against two female guards, Lola Larson and Trina Parks as Bambi and Thumper, who proceed to knock Bond around with their gymnastics skills. Bond has no luck in fighting back when they're on solid ground, but once the tussle moves into a swimming pool, he easily gains the upper hand and gets them to reveal where Whyte is - locked up in a very cozy basement area of the house.

Willard Whyte, who seems quite well-adjusted and sociable for someone who was presumably known as a recluse even before Blofeld locked him up, is entertainingly played by country singer/sausage king Jimmy Dean. As he takes his first steps outside in years, Bert Saxby starts firing shots at him and the government agents that he's surrounded by. The agents return fire, and as Saxby's dead body tumbles down the hill, Whyte is shocked to hear the identity of the shooter. "Bert Saxby? Tell him he's fired!"

Saxby was played by veteran actor Bruce Cabot and this film was the last of his 107 credits, as he passed away in May of 1972. His most popular role was Jack Driscoll in the 1933 King Kong. Saxby wasn't a big part, but Cubby Broccoli wanted to make sure Cabot got paid well, so his scenes were scheduled out over six weeks. Cabot was also in a deleted scene, in which Saxby interacted with a cameoing Sammy Davis Jr.

Leiter's men are ready to raid the Whyte House penthouse, but Blofeld manages to sneak out right under their noses... by dressing in drag. Q is too busy trying out a gadget that allows him to win at every slot machine in the casino - just a field test, he shows no interest in the money pouring out of the machines - to notice that anything's going on, but Tiffany does find something odd about the cat-carrying woman walking out of the building. She follows Blofeld outside and gets captured.

Whyte gets to work finding out what Blofeld has been doing with his resources while he's been in captivity. The diamonds Blofeld has been smuggling have been used to create a weapon in space, a diamond-encrusted satellite that has been launched before Whyte can stop it. Light is refracted through the diamonds until it generates enough power for the satellite to fire a powerful lazer beam down from orbit.

Blofeld uses the lazer to blow up a couple missile bases and a submarine in different locations around the world - North Dakota, Russia, China - just as a show of what he's capable of before he contacts the world governments. He's holding the United States for ransom, there will be an international auction and nuclear supremacy will be granted to the highest bidder. Bond and Whyte are discussing the situation in Whyte's penthouse when something strange is noticed on a map of his businesses. An oil rig near Baja, California. With a delivery that gets stuck in viewers' minds, Jimmy Dean exclaims a line that I often find myself saying out of nowhere - "Baja? I haven't got anything in Baja!"

That's the kickoff for one of the most lackluster climactic sequences in the series, as Bond lands on Blofeld's oil rig to shut down his satellite controls and rescue Tiffany as helicopters full of government agents attack from the sky. Bullets are fired and things explode, but something about it just doesn't work.

I could really say the same for the movie as a whole. Despite the attempt, the magic of Goldfinger was not recaptured here. What they ended up with is a movie that feels... kind of odd. There's something off about it. I think how much someone will enjoy it mostly comes down to how well the feel of the movie works for them. In his Diamonds Are Forever text commentary - which you should check out if you'd like to read a very positive look at the movie - Luke Freeman rather accurately described the tone as bizarre.

The worst aspect of the film for me is Blofeld, how Charles Gray plays him and how his interactions with Bond go. It completely drops the ball passed to it from the ending of On Her Majesty's Secret Service. At the end of OHMSS, I wanted to see the Blofeld storyline continue so that Bond could take him out in a satisfying conclusion. DAF is not a satisfying follow-up at all. If Blofeld had been killed in the pre-title sequence, dropping him into the boiling mud would've been a slightly goofy and very quick way to wrap things up, but I would be more satisfied if that were the end of his story. I can accept the fact that Irma Bunt, Blofeld's henchwoman who actually pulled the trigger in the killing of Tracy, was left out, since actress Ilse Steppat passed away just days after OHMSS was released, but how Blofeld is handled really bothers me.

Bond and Blofeld's final encounter in this film is extremely disappointing. Blofeld is attempting to escape from the oil rig in a one-man Bathosub, which needs to be lowered into the water by a crane. Bond takes control of the crane and batters Blofeld's sub around the rig, a scene that is totally played for laughs. Bond then dives off the rig and leaves Blofeld in his silly little sub to be caught in an explosion, and it's left up in the air as to whether anything bad (make that good) actually happens to Blofeld or not. I'm left hoping that he was blown up, because by the end of this movie, I'm really tired of Blofeld and hoping to never see him again.

So there's that rant. Aside from the Blofeld scenes, the film is entertaining, it has some good lines, Connery is better here than he was in You Only Live Twice, and it features two Bond girls who I find very appealing, the main girl being one of my favorite female characters in the series. I'm just underwhelmed by it.

Tiffany was one of Bond's favorite female characters in the books as well. After the events of Diamonds Are Forever, Bond and Tiffany lived together for a while and were so serious that they even considered getting married, but then they drifted apart and had broken up before the start of the next book, From Russia with Love.

Like the novel, the film ends with Bond and Tiffany headed to England aboard a ship, where Wint and Kidd make one last attempt on their lives. How this is done is very different between the two mediums. The film again plays things for laughs, with silly reactions, a bomb in a cake, quips, and testicle damage causing a man to make funny noises. The novel's version of things could still be adapted into a good suspense sequence for a future movie.

The final moment has Bond and Tiffany looking up at the night sky, where Blofeld's diamond satellite still uselessly orbits the Earth. Tiffany asks, "James, how the hell do we get those diamonds down again?" When I first saw this movie at 11 years old, I thought that question was the set-up for the plot of Moonraker.

Since this was just a one-off for Connery, at the end of the film we're again left with no actor to play Bond in the following movie. But the next guy will stick around long enough to make up for all the wishy-washiness that has gone on over the last three movies.

1 comment:

  1. Marvelous overview! I've always thought of DAF as a "Roger Moore Bond movie starring Sean Connery" due to the light hearted tone attempted throughout. Some great moments and typically wonderful and witty Mankiewicz lines, Connery, St. John, Las Vegas, Jimmy Dean make up the positives. The lack of Blofeld obliterating; Charles Gray, amusing but miscast as Blofeld (imagine if Telly Savalas could have been lured back); and that admittedly lackluster climax set on an oil rig the filmmakers couldn't damage (and didn't think to provide a miniature of to blow the stuffing out of) are the negatives. The positives win out, and I'm simply delighted that there's another person on this planet (along with me AND my wife) who will cry out "Baja? I haven't got anything in Baja!" at odd moments. Cheers!