2012 marks the 50th anniversary of James Bond on the big screen. To celebrate, SFX’s Nick Setchfield revisits each and every 007 adventure in a week by week countdown to Skyfall…
MISSION 7: DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER (1971)
NEVER SAY FOREVER AGAIN Contrary to popular myth, George Lazenby revoked his own licence to kill. He walked from the world of Bond on the advice of Ronan O’Reilly, founder of pirate broadcaster Radio Caroline, who persuaded him that there was no place for a government issue assassin in the Age of Aquarius. Fleming’s Old Etonian hero was a square, O’Reilly argued, a Saville Row anachronism, a cuff-linked relic of a crumbling imperial mindset whose lounge bar refrain of “Vodka martini, shaken not stirred” was positively prehistoric given the prevailing mantra of “Tune in, turn on, drop out.” Lazenby would come to regard this advice as poison in his ear, but for now he was content to holster his Walther PPK, a decision that would ultimately see him trade international stardom for everlasting status as a piece of pub trivia (“The truth of the matter is I was a dumb shit,” he later confessed). Faced with another frighteningly 007-shaped vacuum, the filmmakers briefly considered enlisting Batman star Adam West before signing a fellow American, John Gavin, best known for Hitchcock’s Psycho and a suave, Bond-chasing turn in Euro-spy caper OSS 117 Murder For Sale. But paymasters United Artists demanded the return of the dependably bankable Sean Connery, and Dr No’s Ursula Andress was despatched to make an offer in person. Still bruised by the remorseless, privacy-devouring grind of his five film run, Connery mulled the notion for a week, finally accepting a fee of $1 ¼ million that he donated to the Scottish International Education Trust. John Gavin departed, his contract paid in full, his improbably transatlantic Bond doomed to play the picturehouses of a parallel universe. “You’ve been on holiday,” Sir Donald notes as Bond is briefed on his latest mission, the slyest acknowledgement of Connery’s return to a role that must have seemed increasingly inescapable.
“WHERE’S BLOFELD?” It’s tempting to see the pre-titles of Diamonds Are Forever as a vengeance-fired addendum to the tragic climax of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Bond is engaged in a relentless pursuit of Blofeld; an unseen, unflagging force of nature punching, kicking and smashing his way across the planet. Teasingly withheld for a long minute, Connery’s face is finally revealed as he delivers his signature line – “My name’s Bond… James Bond!” – and we barely clock his visibly older, more saturnine appearance before he whips a bikini top from a poolside beauty and proceeds to strangle her with it. It’s an uncharacteristically malicious moment for a Bond movie and part of a vicious new tone that permeates this entire sequence – 007’s jacket pocket conceals a mouse-trap style device that trades Q’s usual wit for straightforward cruelty, while Bond slings surgical scalpels with deadly precision, turning SPECTRE goons into shish kebab. Is this savage and merciless new Bond a reaction to Tracy’s murder? Tellingly, there’s not a single mention of his status as a widower – in fact Moneypenny will later make a joke about wedding rings that would seem to be in deplorable taste – and for all the grim satisfaction of Bond’s “Welcome to Hell, Blofeld” as his nemesis sinks into a molten grave, this may as well be a straight sequel to You Only Live Twice. Business as usual, Mr Bond.
NEW DECADE, NEW STYLE Bond targeted the 1970s with a new voice, one that belonged to young Californian screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz, whose flip, mordant, frequently macabre style would shape the next phase of 007’s big screen career. Producer Albert Broccoli wanted a defiantly American sensibility for Diamonds and set out to recapture the flavour of Goldfinger, a movie that now felt like a touchstone for Bond’s crowdpleasing glory days after the mixed reaction that met On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (a film reclaimed as a classic in the decades since, but very much viewed as an anomaly at the time). Goldfinger helmer Guy Hamilton was duly enlisted and an early draft of the script pitched 007 against the bullion-hungering rascal’s twin brother – Blofeld’s death-dealing satellite may well be a link to this original version of the tale, given Goldfinger’s early adoption of laser technology in the 1964 flick. Diamonds brings us a brash bubblegum reality that feels a world away from the European splendour of OHMSS and, flatly directed by Hamilton, it’s a film that feels distinctly tawdry in comparison with its predecessor. There’s a queasy tone to its landscape of casinos and funeral homes, its cast of hustlers and hoods, and a sulphurous sense of bad taste that pervades everything from its freakshow Gorilla Girl to the shocking pink tie that Connery manfully endeavors to rock. And as Bond bumps along desert scrubland in the weird, ungainly Moonbuggy, pursued by chugging trikes, you can’t help but feel that it’s the most fundamentally inelegant Bond movie too.
VEGAS, BABY! James Bond cuts an uncomfortable figure as he walks through the deep-pile, daylight-defying environment of a Las Vegas casino, accompanied by a soul-deadening serenade of piped muzak. If it’s an attempt to chase a little Rat Pack cool, it feels belated, for Fleming’s old world hero has arrived in Vegas just as the city has stopped swinging. Once the playground of Sinatra and his equally sharp-suited cronies, Nevada’s neon-soaked gaming capital now has a nasty polyester sheen, and there’s an existential emptiness in its world of gas stations, car lots and dollar motels that feels deeply at odds with the traditional aspirational shimmer of the Bond universe. We may glimpse the unforgettable sight of an elephant playing a one-armed bandit but this all feels distinctly low-rent. Only as Connery rides a cable to the Whyte House, the Strip beyond alive with light against the desert night, does Vegas finally possess the sense of uncanny glamour that befits the screen’s most stylish hero.
SHADES OF GRAY Another Bond film, another Blofeld – and, iconography of white cat and beige suit aside, another incarnation that feels utterly incompatible with its predecessors (though this Blofeld’s obssession with plastic surgery and mischievous use of doubles at least hints at a possible rationale for all the identity-swapping japery). Charles Gray played doomed Tokyo contact Dikko Henderson in You Only Live Twice and, two films later, returns as the new face of the SPECTRE mastermind, now improbably blessed with a fine thatch of silver hair (were some of SPECTRE’s extorted millions siphoned into hair replacement research?). Portly, louche and armed with a languid cigarette holder, Gray brings an air of the gentleman’s club to the role, relishing the foppish purr of such lines as “Right idea, Mr Bond… wrong pussy!” It’s an unshakably camp turn compared to Pleasence’s cracked goblin and Savalas’ smooth gangster, never more so than in the scene where Blofeld drags up to make an escape. The sight of Gray in blue eyeshadow and scarlet lipstick, leering like a panto dame, actually manages to pack a deviant shiver. Yes, there’s something incongruous about Gray disparaging Bond’s Britain as “your pitiful little island” in a cut-glass English accent, but it fits with Fleming’s original conception of Blofeld as a stateless international shape-shifter. A wily, nameless cameo in For Your Eyes Only aside, it’s the last we’ll see of 007’s arch enemy in the official Bond movies, and it robs us of a fitting final showdown between the two men.
THE ODD COUPLE First seen observing a scorpion with the cold fascination of true psychopaths, Wint and Kidd, the homosexual hitmen, remain two of the most mesmerically off-beat characters in Bond history. As brought to the screen by Putter Smith, the flaxen-haired, walrus-moustached Mr Kidd is the first hint that Woodstock may have actually occurred in the impregnably establishment world of Bond. A jobbing musician, virgin actor Smith had actually played bass on numerous ‘60s classics, including Good Vibrations by the Beach Boys. Guy Hamilton spotted him working with Thelonious Monk at an LA jazz club. “I got a call about three months later and went down, thinking they wanted a bass sideline,” Smith recalled. “They handed me a script and next thing you know I’m in a James Bond movie. I could not believe it!”. In truth, Smith is miscast. There’s no real menace in his performance – even advancing on Bond with a pair of flaming kebabs at the film’s climax he radiates a gentle, sweet-natured hippy charm, as threatening as a bonged-out David Crosby. Bruce Glover, however, is persuasively creepy as the touchy, cologne-spraying Mr Wint. Told to channel such classic screen villains as Sidney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre, he actually found his character through a sense of flashing-eyed possessiveness towards his partner: “Putter was my toy!”
TRIV AND LET DIE
The plot of Diamonds Are Forever was inspired by a dream of Cubby Broccoli’s that his close friend Howard Hughes had been replaced by an imposter in his Vegas penthouse.
The reclusive Hughes proved an ally behind the scenes, pulling strings to close downtown Vegas for the film’s showpiece car chase.
Singer-songwriter Paul Williams was the original choice for Mr Wint.
Raquel Welch was in the frame for the role of Tiffany Case.
Vegas mainstay Sammy Davis Jr cameoed in a scene that was later cut from the film, declaring of the tuxedo-clad Bond “They ain’t never gonna get a cake big enough to put him on top of!”
Mr Wint originally jammed the scorpion into a man’s mouth rather than place it down his shirt. It was judged to be too horrific.
Bond possesses a Playboy membership card.
Watch the scene where Bond is shown a Federal agent on guard in the hotel. “And Hamilton is right out here…” – that’s actually director Guy Hamilton.