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Saturday, July 30, 2011

The James Bond Turning Point

Cause for celebration during senior year was Sean Connery returning as James Bond in Diamonds Are Forever. Dog-like loyalty had inspired my boycott of On Her Majesty's Secret Service for its lacking the real 007, thus years' delay seeing this perhaps best of Bonds. Headed toward an end of high school, I wanted not for certain things to change, even as surely they would, both television and movie-wise. Connery Is Bond, said UA in 1967's You Only Live Twice publicity, making OHMSS all the more a violation of their aesthetic contract with fans (how many others ducked Lazenby in 1969?). Connery being back amounted to restoration of proper order and spiked interest in Diamonds Are Forever.

Our trip to Winston-Salem's opening day, six wedged in and me driving, was 1971 Christmas come early, the Thruway Theatre's holiday attraction held over into a next annum. Already at seventeen was I embarked on nostalgia trips like this and there'd be more at the Thruway two years later when Jack The Giant Killer turned up as a kiddie booking (me again the oldest kiddie there). Movie-going seemed so utterly changed between the mid-sixties and 1971. I'd begun to feel old seeing so much disappear. Double-features first, even at last-stand Liberty, then concessions $oared. Pictures bad or good lingered longer ... no more three changes a week as before. Diamonds Are Forever seemed a lifeline to ways past, though seeing it was to know James Bond and theatres hosting him would never again be the same.

Diamonds Are Forever recently streamed from Netflix. I watched for whatever memories it would bestir from Thruway's forty-year ago opening day. There's no calling this a best of Bonds, except among tastes running toward jokey installments to come. Of these, Diamonds earns laughs most honestly, but whose idea was it to make 007 a figure of fun? I guess 1971 was the point at which camp finally caught up with the series (in hindsight, you wonder why it didn't happen sooner). Certainly Diamonds' success indicated this as direction a public wanted to go. I read at the time how UA offered Connery the moon to come back, which raises another question I've still not got straight ... Was Lazenby fired or did he quit?

The seriousness of OHMSS's ending was not maintained for even a moment of Diamonds Are Forever. A recast Lazenby would've gone about the pre-credit search for Blofeld with far greater intensity than a disengaged Connery visibly aged since You Only Live Twice of four years back. There's a feeling throughout Diamonds of Connery being there purely for cash. He had tired of the part and made no secret of it. Too much compensation had gone to his jowls and midsection. The wit of SC's earlier Bond had become indifference. Still, we were happy to have him back because Connery was, if nothing else, a link to adolescent discovery of James Bond and the glimpse of grown-up-ness that afforded.

Connery Getting Ready To Fall Asleep While Standing Up During Diamonds' Casino Sequence.

There were aspects of Diamonds Are Forever that we knew would date quickly. A precursor to the redneck sheriff who'd contaminate the first two Roger Moores was here, as car chases once played at least moderately straight became stunt driven extravaganzas a network might have animated for Saturday mornings. The Howard Hughes inspired character that was Jimmy Dean was merely two bad ideas among many inappropriate to James Bond, while a homicidal homosexual couple, good for biggest laughs among 1971 viewers, play not so well to heightened 21st century sensibilities.

What Diamonds Are Forever had was tempo. It's like serial chapters wired together and never mind coherence lacking. There must've been hard decisions made going into this one. Surely producers realized that, from here, we'd not take James Bond seriously again. Still, there are fun enough moments in Diamonds to forgive what we'd lose, sort of like eating out on a credit card you know is overdrawn. DAF seems closest to an imagined Bond picture Howard Hawks might have directed: Just give the audience good scenes and don't annoy them too much the rest of the time (if only he had been in charge here!).

There were grosses. Oodles of that. Diamonds was an early occasions I remember Variety talking about a monumental opening weekend. Playboy saluted Bond girl Lana Wood with an extravagant pictorial. She'd later slap-back the franchise writing of an off-set Connery canoodle ... He smelled like the bottom of a lion's cage! ... said Lana. It was tough regarding him the same after that. Someone else talked of SC wandering Vegas casinos during the shoot sans hairpiece and outer-wear appropriate to Bond. Handlers had to hustle him upstairs for a change to avert fan disillusionment (in fact, a lot of tourists didn't even recognize 007).


Blogger Michael said...

For me, the big failing of the Bonds from this one on has to do with the location filming. When Bond wanders around Hagia Sophia in Istanbul in From Russia With Love, he's somewhere you'll likely never be. When he's at the Circus Circus in Vegas seeing Zamora the gorilla girl, he's just another middle-aged guy at a convention hitting on the cocktail waitresses. (And in Diamonds, he has the sideburns to prove it.) The series came down to earth with this one, to my mind, and has rarely flown again, though perhaps it was all inevitable as real people did, indeed, start to travel like James Bond in the 1970s.

2:38 PM  
Anonymous DBenson said...

Yes, Vegas was by then a little too explicitly a tourist attraction. In "Goldfinger," the various American locales were viewed through foreign eyes as exotic -- even a Kentucky Fried Chicken in the background felt more like a bit of curious native culture than product placement. The Chamber-of-Commerce approved Vegas might as well have been Disneyland. And Jill St. John, while certainly sexy enough, was a familiar American star rather than one of the intriguing almost-unknowns (at least in the states) who usually played Bond girls (Diana Rigg was also more known than the usual. Were they trying to work up to A-list female stars?). Maybe it played better with foreign audiences, for whom America in general and Vegas in particular were still incredibly strange and bizarre.

As for OHMSS, I thought the camp element was manifesting itself even there. Maybe it was in the book, but a mountain retreat full of excessively nubile heiresses and Bond making nightly rounds, followed immediately by true love and tragedy, smacked of self-parody.

4:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was there, too, for the Christmas--Oops!--"Holiday" showing of DAF, back when audiences had to sometimes drive out of town to see new releases that wouldn't make it to backwater venues until much later, on their second-runs. Commander Bond performed his duties admirably stateside--the climax in "Goldfinger" had been, er, uh, "electrifying". But his talents were wasted in the vulgar neon canyons of Las Vegas, and I'm in agreement that Bond needs to stay away from American soil, with it's redneck villains and gaudy entrapments. As to "Jack the Giant Killer", which I saw as a child circa '63, and later saw at the Thruway during a Kiddee Matinee after achieving puberty, I felt as if I'd grown into something resembling the film's titular ogre, as I was surrounded by squealing wee tykes who'd been dropped off by their mommies. I was a bit misplaced But it was the last time I would see that magical movie from my childhood on the big screen.

7:36 PM  
Blogger James Corry said...

In my humble opinion, had "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" starred a fit and serious Sean Connery, it would have been the best Bond ever made. Peter Hunt's direction (which I understand was a "reward" to him for "saving" "You Only Live Twice")and pacing was superb as was John Barry's score. Barry seemed to "lose it" after "Diamonds...." in just about every aspect of his writing.....Let's face it, Connery and Barry DEFINE Bond. Bond is really "of his time" (the 60's) and should have stayed there. Although I thought Lazenby did a fabulous job in attempting to fill Connery's shoes, my vote for best Bond would probably go to "Thunderball"......


8:29 PM  
Anonymous Jim Cobb said...

I too would like a final verdict on whether Lazenby was fired or quit. Anyone got the answer? And Mr. Corry---could you elaborate on Peter Hunt saving YOLT? Was this a troubled production saved in the editing room? For myself, DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER's best feature is the John Barry score. Otherwise, I agree... pretty weak. Anyway... DAF was the final Bond I saw for the first time on the giant screen at the Loew's here in Richmond. By the time LIVE AND LET LIVE came along, I was reduced to seeing it in a tiny Jerry Lewis cinema. Both the movie and venue were a reflection of how the moviegoing experience was changing at the time... and not for the better.

12:03 AM  
Anonymous KING OF JAZZ said...

I was impressed just how better Connery looked in 1983's ersatz NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN. He had the '60s Bond iconic image again, unlike the weary duffer in DAF.

9:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

At the time of its initial release DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER was a real movie and the release prints (in Norfolk, Virginia) actually looked pretty good so I enjoyed it a lot. The "Americanization" of Bond was a huge mistake. It was the exoticism that really appealed. I could get undiluted American from American films.

The lack of "fantastic" elements was bad as well. FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE lacked the fantastic elements (no Dr No lab or Fort Knox vault) but given the drab any-American-tourist settings it really hobbled the movie.

Spencer Gill (

10:48 AM  
Blogger James Corry said...

Jim, as I understand it, from a friend of mine who is British and actually worked on a couple of the Bond films, the answer to your question is yes. YOLT was a troubled production and was "a mess" and Peter Hunt was called in to "save" it with judicious editing and in return, he was promised OHMSS. I really can't understand why OHMSS seems to be the "bastard child" of the Bond films. It's a wonderful movie and Hunt rose to the occasion specatularly. But that is what I understand from my friend, YOLT was very troubled, from Connery being "restless" (and it showed) to shed his "Bond image" to sloppy direction, you-name-it.


11:00 AM  
Anonymous Jim Lane said...

It's always been my impression that Lazenby was, if not fired, at least quietly dropped after OHMSS. I seem to recall once reading an interview with him where he admitted blowing a sweet deal by acting too big for his britches. That picture burned me out on Bond for a while; I told my date at the time that I thought Sean Connery was "the only thing that ever made these elaborate wet-dreams worth watching." A little harsh, I think now, but that's how I felt then.

Connery's return wasn't only a link to our adolescent discovery of Bond; it was also a last link to Ian Fleming, and I still think his books are better than most of the movies made from them (and maybe better than the non-Fleming books that followed, though I admit I haven't read any of them). All due respect to Pierce, Timothy and Daniel, I have a pretty simple rule regarding the James Bond pictures: If Sean Connery isn't in it, or if Roger Moore is, don't watch it.

2:06 PM  
Anonymous Jim Cobb said...

Thanks James. I agree that OHMSS is one of the best, perhaps even THE best, of the entire series. Hunt did a great job. That said I do like YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE...though my sense is that even as early as THUNDERBALL Connery was starting to send up the Bond character. Hunt had a lot to do with the editing style of the films...I read somewhere that they would actually remove just a frame or two just to make punches have more impact and other action move faster. We will never know if Lazenby would have gotten better had he made more Bond films.

5:29 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

The problem with Lazenby is that in the movies Bond WAS Connery; our idea of the character comes from him more than Fleming, and no one could equal that (though Daniel Craig comes closest to reinventing it for his own personality). I think it was David Thomson who referred to something in Connery being "a streak of sadism that could have come from the Bunuel of Belle de Jour," which is a little highfalutin' but definitely does get at Connery's callous side, so unlike previous straight arrow movie heroes (other than Mike Hammer, of course). He was a brute and could pull that off in an attractively roguish way; when Roger Moore stuffs a dwarf in a cabinet, he just seems like a snotty preppy. Lazenby was simply the latest in a long line of Connery imitators, even if he was in the real series (and a fine film in many ways, though Goldfinger is, clearly and obviously, the best and quintessential Bond film).

8:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lazenby quit. He wasn't really interested and didn't quite understand what he'd gotten into. Went off to live the 'hippy' life.
John Gavin was signed to play the role until Connery returned, then was dropped and paid his full fee.
Connery demanded 1 million, in Brit pounds not US $, and gave it all to the Scottish Boy Scouts, at least according to press accounts at the time.
DFA is near the bottom of the Bond barrel, imo, but then again I'm one of the very few that think Dalton's 'License to Kill' is the best.

- KD

9:30 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

KD, I'm also a fan of 'License to Kill' and Dalton's Bond. I wish he could have stayed in the part longer.

6:45 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Dan Mercer weighs in on James Bond via e-mail:

My dad took me to see "On Her Majesty’s Secret Service," the last time we went to the movies together. I liked it, though George Lazenby was only adequate, a tall Rod Taylor type carefully posed in his scenes, who didn’t make James Bond his own, let alone anyone to forget Sean Connery. My friend Harris had introduced me to "The Avengers" television series, so I was already aware of the alluring Diana Rigg. In retrospect, there were already developments apparent that would typify the Roger Moore films, in particular the gratuitous humor and over-the-top action sequences which bid farewell to the laws of physics. There was also a sense, however, that the producers were trying to make some changes to the character, as in the love affair between Bond and the Italian contessa. What had given the series its special appeal, however, was a tough ruthlessness devoid of conventional morality or sentimentality. There was killing for political or economic ends, but without honor, sex without love. James Bond was not a knight of any kind, but a predator. For young men, there was something exciting about this. It was incongruous, then, to see him distraught when his bride is murdered, or as one reviewer put it, “a cartoon that wept.” He had become conventional without becoming real.

I remember reading a story when "Diamonds are Forever" was filming in Las Vegas. It’s probably the one you alluded to. Sean Connery was at a casino show when he was introduced to the audience. The spotlight picked out a paunchy, balding man in a Hawaiian shirt which wasn’t tucked in. He could have been any schlub in the crowd, but indeed, it was Connery himself, who grinned and waved. Apparently, he could have cared less about his appearance. Sean Connery was real, James Bond was not. Besides, the iconoclast in him was probably delighted to send up his image in that fashion. His pr handlers took him aside. “Sean,” they said, “you’re letting the side down. Play the game, Sean, you must play the game.” The next evening he was back, in a white tuxedo jacket, black tie, and black trousers, toupee in place and eyes made up, looking very much like James Bond. The film, however, is quite disappointing, with a flabby script and cheap-looking production. The henchmen are almost devoid of menace, two hair dresser types and “Bambi” and “Thumper,” girl killers who are introduced as such and then benignly dismissed without any of the possibilities of sex and death having been addressed. In contrast to Diana Rigg, Jill St. John easily gave the worst performance ever by a leading lady in a Bond film. She was just stunningly awful, without charm, intelligence, or even any real display of her physical charms. Sadly, however, that Connery wasn’t so good himself. For all that he brought to "Dr. No" or "Goldfinger," he was not James Bond, but an actor playing a part. By this point, the producers of the series had stopped taking James Bond seriously, except as a money machine.

8:17 AM  
Anonymous Bob said...

Like some others here – my Dad took me to Diamonds Are Forever. I think it was the only Bond movie we saw together.

Even as a boy I thought it was pretty weak tea; indeed, there are only a handful of good Connery Bond films. Dr. No, From Russia With Love and Goldfinger are all quite good in their way, but You Only Live Twice and DAF are fairly dire. All of the many problems that people have with the Roger Moore films are present in spades with both YOLT and DAF.

One last note – I’ve never understood why people hate Moore in the role; actually, he’s my favorite. No one can take Bond seriously; he’s a joke. Moore got the joke and let us in on it – we were complicit in the overall silliness on hand. The early Connery films, the Dalton films, the Craig films – they all make the mistake of playing this stuff straight. Bond and his world don’t deserve a reverent approach, it’s pulp flummery that was stale when Bulldog Drummond did it.

10:56 AM  
Blogger MDG14450 said...

When Bond-mania took off in the 60s, it seemed spy films had a schism between "light" (Helm, Flint, a hundred euro films) and "dark" (usually British, like the Harry Palmer movies or "The Deadly Affair"), with Bond holding the middle ground, for a while anyway.

When I followed "entertainment" in the late 70s and 80s, always thought it was interesting that the Bond scripts were often nominated for WGA awards, but always in the Comedy category.

11:46 AM  
Blogger Dugan said...

"Diamonds Are Forever" is really the first of the Roger Moore films which has Connery instead of Moore. All the jokey humor that the series turned into with Moore is present in "Diamonds."

1:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My first Bond was OHMSS, and since I was only about 10, I assumed I was watching Connery-I had no idea that there was a new Bond. I didn't realize that it wasn't Connery for a few years.

3:49 PM  
Blogger Booksteve said...

This was actually my very first Bond film and so remains a favorite if only for that reason. Soon afterwards, I caught a triple feature of DR NO. FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE and GOLDFINGER and the latter became--and remains--my very favorite 007 picture!

9:06 PM  
Blogger Poptique said...

From what I've read and heard Lazenby, bless him, was convinced by a lot of his hangers-on around him that Bond wouldn't very well survive into 70s (which is sort-of true) and he'd have made enough of a splash with the one film to have made his name and jump ship. Considering the way he seems to have been treated and alienated by the director on the film, it seems a little more understandable.

If it wasn't for a run of bad luck, culminating in getting stuck with a dodgy contract, he might have been proved right though.

In 1971 he made a decently budgeted, hard-nosed Bondalike called Universal Soldier after bumming about a bit on his new found fame, then signed up with Golden Harvest in Hong Kong for a team up with Bruce Lee and Japanese action Sonny Chiba - the international selling point blatantly being Bond meets Bruce to battle Chiba. Chances are this could have been a huge success.

However, when Lee unexpectedly died the budget was slashed and Chiba engaged in a spot of ship jumping himself - leaving just Lazenby attached to the rapidly sinking vessel.

The film was released as "Stoner" in most countries, and as only DAF had been released since Lazenby's Bond, the Asian trailer is absolutely dripping in 007 references, with that number flashed on the screen throughout.

The other two films he had to make for Golden Harvest, including The Man From Hong Kong, are pretty good, but the law of diminishing returns applies in full - and none of them even begin to approach OHMSS in any shape or form!

6:57 AM  
Anonymous Laughing Gravy said...

Big disagreements with many of you from me. I find You Only Live Twice and OHMSS to be dull (Thunderball is fairly dull, too, despite some very good sequences). Diamonds are Forever is much better than any of those films. I do agree that the locale isn't exotic enough; I can't stand Jill St. John in this film, she nearly sinks it. Still, it's a fun film, the most fun of any Bond film since, and ranks behind only Goldfinger on my 007 list. (Aside to somebody: other than Colonel Sun by Kingsley Amis, the post-Fleming books are a bore. I've read several of them hoping for a good one, but never found one.)

11:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I too am surprised that the dismissal of Diamonds Are Forever by most of the commentators here. True, I first saw it new when I was 10 years old, and was shocked that my protective parents allowed my big brothers to take me to a movie with such "adult content" (to me at the time). There was also the thrill of seeing a movie at night in a brand-new suburban mall; the unrest in the wake of Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination put an end to our family venturing into the grand old movie houses downtown, where we had gone to see movies in the 1960s.

But Diamonds Are Forever did not strike me as either cheap or campy, and it races right along, as our host notes. I was entertained when I caught up with it in a repertory theater in the 90s, even while wincing at the gratuitous misogyny (Bond strangling the woman with her bikini top during the "where is Blofeld" sequence) and the sheer gratuitousness (Bond swiftly dispatching eyecandy "Bambi" and "Thumper"). But I still thought Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd thoroughly menacing... if those two are "hairdressers," I would find another salon!

12:23 AM  
Blogger citizenkanne said...

Peter Hunt "saved" YOLT? I wonder what it looked like before he came in? It's still a mess, and the worst of ANY of the Bond films in my opinion. Even with Connery and Donald Pleasance as Blofeld. Never had a problem with Roger Moore in the part. In fact, I consider "For Your Eyes Only" one of the best of the series.

12:45 AM  
Anonymous Bill Luton said...

I think the series disintegrated with OHMSS and never recovered, even with two more Connery outtings. While I do appreciate the Daniel Craig reboot, I've always wanted to see the series reset back into the 1950's that the first novels were written in.

5:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In my humble opinion, had "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" starred a fit and serious Sean Connery, it would have been the best Bond ever made.

As far as I'm concerned, "ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE" IS the best James Bond movie ever made. And it didn't need Sean Connery in the title role. George Lazenby did just fine, as far as I'm concerned. Unfortunately for Connery, he got stuck with "DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER" and "NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN" as his last two Bond films - two of the worst Bond movies I have ever seen.

11:38 PM  
Anonymous Chris said...

KD, I'm also a fan of 'License to Kill' and Dalton's Bond. I wish he could have stayed in the part longer.

Seems like there's a few of us folks. 'License' and OHMMSS are my two favorites.

5:26 PM  

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