007 One by One: “Diamonds are Forever”

Friends and colleagues

Felix Leiter (Norman Burton) – Bond’s old CIA buddy is back for the first time since “Thunderball” and, considering he was last played by handsome would-be action star Rik Van Nutter, the years have not been kind. The eternally shape-shifting spy is now a somewhat lumpy, cynically middle-aged foil somewhat along the same lines as Cec Linder in “Goldfinger.” This time, however, Leiter plays a relatively active role between not terribly fumy wisecracks, helping Bond get where he needs to go and grudgingly pulling strings to save the lovely behind of Tiffany Case.

The actor playing Leiter was, we fear, something of a footnote. Though the late Norman Burton racked up some 89 television and movie credits, he probably made a bigger mark on stage. Aside from “Diamonds are Forever” he’s probably best known for being the first simian to appear in 1968’s “Planet of the Apes.”

Willard Whyte (Jimmy Dean) – It’s not at all clear through a great deal of “Diamonds are Forever” whether Whyte will turn out to be friend, foe, or victim. Ultimately, he comes across as a pretty regular guy for an ultra-reclusive billionaire. The fact that Cubby Broccoli had been friendly with Howard Hughes, and the fact that the movie was filmed in Hughes’ owned hotels, probably had something to do with that. Moreover, country-singer, actor, and budding sausage-king Jimmy Dean also worked the Vegas showrooms and was reportedly a bit nervous to be portraying a version of Hughes. All in all, it’s a long way from “The Aviator.”

Q (Desmond Llewellyn) – Q’s toys play a very active role in “Diamonds are Forever,” but we don’t get the usual scene where the old techie gives Bond a bunch of deadly new toys for his next big adventure. Instead, he appears to show-off handy doodads from time to time, like when he explains the fake fingerprint Bond uses to fool Tiffany Case into believing he’s diamond smuggler Peter Franks. Later, he gets a bit chummy with Ms. Case at the slot machines as he is seen openly defrauding the Whyte House’s with  one of his gadgets.

M (Bernard Lee) – After allowing Bond to engage in a very personal – though never discussed – vendetta in which he appears to use his license to kill to assassinate Blofeld, M is eager to get Bond back on track with an actual assignment. In a continuation of the multi-film running gag in which Bond persistently one-ups M on his knowledge of everything from cognac to lepidoptery, M is delighted to find out that Bond knows next to nothing about diamonds – but his satisfaction is short-lived. We love the old sourpuss.

Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell) – After poignantly bidding Bond farewell when he was George Lazenby in “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service,” the only surviving woman James Bond has ever loved is back to trading wisecracks with 007. The sad undercurrent being that she’s never, ever going to get a diamond ring from Bond and will accept a tulip from the Netherlands instead <sniff>. Since there are no scenes at M’s office, Moneypenny shows up in a custom officer’s uniform to greet Bond as he makes his way for Amsterdam via hovercraft. (Yes, people really took hovercrafts across the English Channel back then.)

The Nemeses

Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Charles Gray) – Though “Diamonds are Forever” is not actually the last film in which Bond faces his ultimate archenemy, it is the last film fully devoted to the to-the-death struggle between the two men. As portrayed by Charles Gray, grey-maned SPECTRE chief Blofeld is a bit more cheerful in his evil, and a lot hairier, than he was in past incarnations by the cue-ball headed pair of Telly Savalas and Donald Pleasance.

Gray does an outstanding job here, as he did in many other films – most famously as the hilariously humorless narrator of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” Holmesians will also recognize him as the man who played Mycroft Holmes opposite two separate Sherlocks – Jeremy Brett on television and Nicol Williamson in 1976’s “The Seven Percent Solution.” As previously mentioned, Grey also died by his own hand (i.e., Blofeld’s) as Dikko Henderson in “You Only Live Twice.”

Article Blofeld

Bert Saxby (Bruce Cabot) – Willard Whyte’s slippery right-hand man doesn’t get a lot of screen time and doesn’t really make that much of an impression before being posthumously sacked by his boss. He’s nevertheless very much worth mentioning, if only for the man who played him. If you’re a fan of classic era Amercan pop cinema, you’ll know Bruce Cabot as the original Jack Driscoll from the 1933 version of “King Kong,” and from innumerable westerns. A reliable performer, he never got the chance to be a true top banana, though he tested for the part in 1939’s “Stagecoach” that transformed his friend and frequent costar, John Wayne, into an American icon.

Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd (Bruce Glover and Putter Smith) – If you can ignore the rather obvious homophobia in the portrayal of this pair of life-partners/ruthless assassins., Wint and Kidd are perhaps the two most interesting aspects of Diamonds are Forever. Faultlessly polite to each other, they may have little regard for human life other than their own, but there’s something kind of lovable and sweet about the pair. They remind us slightly of those overly-polite gophers from the Warner Brothers cartoons.

The humor and chemistry between the two actors is more impressive when you realize that one of them wasn’t an actor at all. Walrus-mustached Putter Smith is a top-drawer musician, a bass player whose resume reads like a who’s-who’s of mid-century American jazz and pop. Smith was spotted backing up iconoclastic piano legend Thelonius Monk at an L.A. nightclub by director Guy Hamilton one evening, and the rest was history. While he didn’t exactly embrace his fling with film fame, Smith remains active to this day and teaches at something called the Bass Institute of Technology.

Smith’s very able scene partner, Bruce Glover, is a vastly more frequent presence onscreen. Though he has 105 movie and TV credits on his IMDb page, today Glover is probably best known to many as the father of actor and cult-figure Cripin Glover. Other memorable roles for the elder Glover include parts in 1974’s “Chinatown” and 2001’s “Ghost World.”

Article bad guys

Peter Franks (Joe Robinson) – This lowlife diamond smuggler has the chutzpah to object when Bond steals his identity. The result is not so healthy for Franks, but he puts up quite a fight. Actor, stunt man, and martial artist Joe Robinson was Sean Connery’s judo instructor and had already starred in a couple of cut-rate Euro-action films, including one as a Tarzan knock-off hastily renamed “Thor” to avoid a lawsuit. Robinson hit the headlines in the UK in 1998 when the 70 year-old retiree successfully fought off eight muggers.

Dr. Metz (Joseph Furst). Not so much a bad guy as a seriously stupid scientist with anti-nuclear inclinations, Dr. Metz is pretty much a walking plot device, alas. As for Anglo-Viennese actor Furst, like some other Bondian minor players, he is probably most widely remembered for a few 1960s episodes of “Dr. Who.”

Assorted mobsters, mortuary folk, and a shady comic. A few colorful types involved in diamond smuggling show up, mostly to threaten Bond and the women who dig him. They reason they stick in the memory more than some other characters is that they are also played by, well, some pretty colorful types.

– Leonard Barr, who portrays aged mobster-comedian Shady Tree, was very much the humorously low-rent comic and show-biz lifer he appeared to be. He was also Dean Martin’s uncle.
– Marc Lawrence’s murderous hood gets one of the film’s most infamous lines, as he expresses surprise that there was a pool for Plenty O’Toole to fall into after he’s thrown her out of a window. An old friend of writer Richard Maibum, the respected and very busy character actor is also noted as one of the sadder victims of the House Un-American Activities Committee.
– Sid Haig, who plays a younger gunsel, needs no introduction to fans of seriously culty genre cinema. Although the talented, memorably pock-marked performey has racked up an impressive 129 film and acting credits, Haig is beloved for his frequent 1960s-1970s horror and blaxsploitation collaborations with director Jack Hill (“Spider Baby,” “Coffy,” “Foxy Brown,” etc.). After long-time fan Quentin Tarantino gave him a bit part in 1997’s “Jackie Brown,” his fame grew somewhat. Today, hardcore horror buffs know him as the loathsome Captain Spaulding in Rob Zombie’s “House of 1000 Corpses” and “The Devil’s Rejects.”

License to Kill – Not since 007 and his fatal encounter with the unlucky Prof. Dent has Bond been this bluntly homicidal. Of course, he theoretically has the best of reasons, and the best of targets. International man of pointless evil Ernst Stavro Blofeld is responsible for the death of countless people, including Bond’s one true love, and on his wedding day no less. Only two problems: Tracy is never mentioned in “Diamond are Forever” and Bond was not exactly himself when all that happened. (“Sorry, M, I was feeling a bit Lazenby.”)

Nevertheless, if you really want to see Bond cold-bloodedly off a bunch of disarmed bad guys, this is your movie — and it starts in the opening sequence.

We’re not saying that all of Bond’s killings could be deemed as out and out criminal acts, of course. It’s true that his killing of a man by drowning him in therapeutic mud seems both nasty and unlikely, but it’s pretty clearly in self defense – although Bond arguably didn’t have to let him sink back into the bud after cleaning the mud on his face. (Something we’d like to see: Bond performing CPR on an asphyxiated SPECTRE employee.)

We’ll also assume the plastic surgeon we see laying outside the lair a bit earlier was merely subdued by Bond with a knockout blow or some drugs, and not actually killed. However, Bond later disarms another very dangerous thug with a help from a strategically placed mousetrap, and then disables him with the help of a thrown dart — but then he keeps throwing darts until the crook is good and darted to death. That might be an iffy call between self-defense and manslaughter.

On the other hand, it’s pretty obviously semi-state-sanctioned murder when he straps a suddenly defenseless Blofeld to a gurney and propels him into a convenient pool of super-hot molten mud. “Welcome to hell, Blofeld!” Bond exclaims. In fact, the man is one of a number of seemingly suicidal, plastic surgically-created Ernst Stravro Fauxfelds we meet throughout the film.

Moving on, diamond smuggler Peter Franks is bad news, for sure, but he’s no Blofeld. Yet, in the heat of battle at least, Bond has no problem blinding the man with a fire extinguisher (which in theory could kill him right there) and then using it to knock him over a a railing and to his perhaps not so instant death…and it’s not like Bond gets on to phone to summon an ambulance for the guy. Oh, and then he and Tiffany Case use Franks’ disused digestive system to smuggle diamonds.

As for those particularly noxious yet lovable psychopaths, Mr. Kidd and Mr. Wint, Wint dies horribly but, mostly in self-defense, when Bond uses a conveniently placed bottle of Cognac to turn Wint into a not-so-appetizing fireball. Kidd, on the other hand, is pretty much murdered for fun when, completely disabled, he blows up real good after Bond places a ticking explosive meant for himself near some pretty Freudian portions of the killer’s anatomy and throws him off an ocean liner just as he explodes. That’s what we call dead.

For all we know, there may be one or more other killings that wouldn’t pass legal or ethical muster, but they fly by pretty fast. It’s worth noting that the still-controversial instant action/crime classic, “Dirty Harry,” would be released exactly one week after “Diamonds are Forever.” The public was rapidly growing ever more tolerant of the idea of representatives of the state “cutting a few corners” in the pursuit of their idea of justice.

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