R0BTRAIN's Badass Cinema: Total Bond-age, Part 4: The Rebound

Bond producers were in a state of panic after the box office failure of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. George Lazenby’s departure also left the 007 team with no lead actor and no course to proceed. Without an immediate overhaul, Bond would soon be a forgotten franchise. Several things had to change in the eyes of the film makers before the next installment could take place. First, many felt the series had lost a sense of adventure in the darker and more serious tones of the last installment. First time director Peter Hunt had put his stamp on his entry in the series, making it more character driven and less about fantasy, but the Bond team now wanted to take the series in a different direction. 007 creators wanted the next film to be similar to Bond’s earlier movies, even using Goldfinger as a template for the next adventure.

To help with this emulation, director Guy Hamilton was brought in to helm the project. The next film Diamonds Are Forever, had to have less emphasis on character development, and more on gadgets, action and fun. Adding to this fresh mix was a new screenwriter. Some felt perennial Bond screenwriter Richard Maibaum was not in tune enough with a younger audience. To find the niche creators were looking for in the younger market, executives hired then unproven Tom Mankiewicz. Lastly, Bond himself would need to be cast. Bond producers wanted a new 007; even perhaps cast an American James Bond. Many actors were considered for the role including Adam West and Burt Reynolds.

Finally the producers signed actor John Gavin for the role. Known mostly for his role as Janet Leigh’s lover in Psycho, Gavin had striking good looks and was very debonair. He seemed an ideal choice to step in where Sean Connery and George Lazenby had left off. This decision was soon overturned by United Artists, the studio that had been financing the franchise since Dr. No first hit screens. Unsure of the bank ability of Gavin, the studio went another direction with the casting. The studio was able to secure a Bond that would help the franchise bounce back before it fell into obscurity. Negotiations were finally reached with Sean Connery to bring him back to the role that made him a star one more time. This all resulted in Bond’s sixth film Diamonds Are Forever.

Diamonds Are Forever Starring Sean Connery and Jill St. John. Directed by Guy Hamilton

Diamonds Are Forever begins with a fabulous montage of Bond beating down various villains in order to get to his nemesis, Ernst Stavro Blofeld. The scenes are capped with 007 finding Blofeld in an underground facility where he is surgically making doubles of himself. Blofeld supposedly meets his end when Bond sends him into a piping hot, muddy grave. Following the opening credits, Bond is sent to investigate the disappearance of diamonds being smuggled out of South Africa.

His search begins with sexy diamond smuggler Jill St John’s Tiffany Case in Amsterdam and Bond’s journey then continues to Las Vegas where he believes he has found the mastermind of the smuggling ring, billionaire Willard Whyte. Unfortunately for 007 the plot thickens when he finds that Whyte has been kidnapped by his arch-enemy Blofeld. Blofeld plans to use the diamonds to build a huge satellite that can reflect the sun’s rays and turn them into a powerful laser. With such a weapon, no one will be able to stop him. Bond must stop Blofeld’s satellite, save Tiffany and once again, even though a bit gray around the edges, make it look good.

Diamonds Are Forever did indeed turn out to be the rebound for the Bond team after On Her Majesty’s Secret Service‘s disappointing box office. Sean Connery’s mere presence was enough to give producers exactly what they wanted; more audience members. Connery feels like he has never even left the role of James Bond. His cool delivery and sly grin makes him look right at home in 007’s shoes.

Jill St. John feels right for the film also. This film being the first released in the 1970’s, St. John’s Tiffany Case does not bother with the glamour of Diana Rigg’s Tracy or other “Bond Girls”, but instead is sexy in a 70’s porn star kind of way. This falls in line with the rest of the film. Instead of the serious direction of Lazenby’s film, Diamonds is a comic strip fantasy. Blofeld is not the menacing villain of the previous two films; he is a megalomaniac who has made several doubles of himself in order to fool Bond. SPECTRE itself has its soldiers in matching uniforms that seem to be rife for parody in films like the Austin Powers series.

Tom Mankiewicz’s script is a nice fit for the film. The dialogue for the film is very whimsical, and is full of double entrandres and the like. Benefiting the most from the script were henchmen Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd, played by Bruce Glover and Putter Smith. Playing cold-blooded killers/lovers in the film, Wint and Kidd are amusing onscreen finishing each others lines as they kill those who Blofeld sends them after. Unfortunately, budget and time constraints still make this film a sub par entry into the series. The final battle between Bond and SPECTRE is not as stirring as the previous encounters in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and Thunderball and many of the sets come off as cheap looking. Stunts in the film are also not as spectacular as they had been in previous Bond movies, but this can be traced back to the budget constraints. Diamonds Are Forever is still a very fun film and was successful enough to give film makers the chance to calculate before making their next move.

Bond producers had merely postponed the predicament of finding another 007. The decision was finally made that Bond would have to be a British gentleman. Producers also wanted a name actor if possible. The coveted role was finally awarded to Roger Moore. Known worldwide as TV’s Simon Templar in the series The Saint,Moore had been considered several times for Bond and now everything had finally fallen into place for him to take the role. This began a very fruitful relationship between Bond producers and Roger Moore.

Live and Let Die Starring Roger Moore and Jane Seymour. Directed by Guy

Roger Moore’s first outing as the world’s greatest secret agent, sends him to places that were far from the glamorous locales usually associated with his adventures. Instead of fighting SPECTRE in the Swiss Alps or the Bahamas, 007 would have to battle drug lords in the backstreets of Harlem and New Orleans. Underworld boss Kananga plans to create a criminal empire through the distribution of heroine from his island in the Caribbean. Also Kananga has enlisted the services of a psychic named Solitaire, played gracefully by Jane Seymour. Bond becomes smitten with Solitaire and convinces her to join him on his quest to stop Kananga. There was a new Bond in front of the camera, but his objectives stayed the same. Bond still had to stop the villain, save the girl, and make it look as good as possible, but this time without impersonating Sean Connery.

The world in which Live and Let Die was made was a very different place from that of the Cold war times of the 1960’s. America in the 1970’s had a very negative outlook on spies in general. While watching Bond kill for his own good on screen made him look heroic, spies in the real world were seen to have a negative effect on society. Watergate and other instances made people distrust spies and intelligence agencies instead of feeling protected. It is under these circumstances that Bond not only succeeded, but thrived in the cinemas with Live and Let Die. 007 producers went to great lengths to bring to screen a Bond adventure that would endure and would properly introduce Roger Moore to the world as the world’s greatest secret agent.

Although the film has a rather anticlimactic ending for its villain, many other ingredients for a proper 007 adventure are there. First the villains in the film are a welcome change to Bond’s usual examples of terrorists out for world domination. Yaphet Kotto’s Dr. Kanaga is a formidable opponent for our hero. Even with a silly attempt to hide Kanaga’s face towards the beginning, Kananga comes off as more realistic than many other Bond villains. Producers were trying to emulate blaxploitation films of the time. Yaphet Kotto was a veteran of such films as Across 110th Street.

On the other hand, the evil henchmen in this film are appropriately flamboyant. Tee Hee played by Julius Harris has a metal hook that he uses to cut down those who would stand in his way. Perhaps the most memorable villain in the film is Geoffrey Holder’s over the top Baron Samedi. Perhaps a voodoo god, perhaps just a man in a big hat and makeup, Samedi is one of the most enduring villains in Bond’s rogue gallery. The “Bond Girl” in this film does not disappoint either. Jane Seymour’s Solitaire is the picture of virginal innocence. Seymour is absolutely captivating as Solitaire and one could see why Bond could fall for her.

Top notch stunts were also brought back to the screen in a big way in Live and Let Die. The film features perhaps the best boat chase ever put on screen. Taking the bayous of Louisiana, the chase features jet boats going at over 80 miles an hour and culminates in a boat jump that was a world record at the time. Another amazing stunt involves Bond running across the back of four or five alligators to escape a death trap set for him. The stuntman who actually did this stunt did so five different times. When one stands back to appreciate the stunt in its entirety, the results are absolutely breathtaking. The final ingredient for a successful Bond is James himself, and Moore seems completely up to the challenge of filling Sean Connery’s shoes. Roger Moore brings a more proper British feel to the role of 007, trying to bring as much of the Fleming character from the novels as possible. Moore also looks perfectly comfortable in the action scenes as well. Film makers tried desperately to make the transition from Connery to Moore as smooth as possible, and for the efforts, they were rewarded greatly.

Audiences still flocked to Bond to see where the series was going next. Roger Moore was greeted with open arms by the movie going public and everyone involved was relieved. Live and Let Die ended up taking in about $10 million dollars more than its predecessor and with a new successful Bond on board in the lead, the 007team saw nothing but a bright future in front of them. But would they be able to top their success even further? Bond would have to try and keep up with the world around it to keep giving audiences what they wanted.

So I’m stepping away from Bond for a while to get to some other stuff before this becomes R0BTRAIN’s weekly 007 column, but I’ll come back to him soon. I love the Moore films and can’t wait to talk about them, but I gotta give it a rest before I start killing off my co-workers in ironic ways just so I can say catchy one-liners afterward. But fear not …

“James Bond Will Return in, The Man With the Golden Gun and The Spy Who Loved Me.”