007 One by One: “Diamonds are Forever”

Bullz-Eye continues its look back at every James Bond film, 007 One by One, as part of our James Bond Fan Hub that we’ve created to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first Bond film.

It’s Vegas, baby, for James Bond, and he’s played by Sean Connery for the last time (until 1983). The jokiest and the most violent of the Bond films up to that point, it’s no one’s favorite 007 entry – and it’s a lot of people’s least favorite – but we still think it’s got way more panache than many of the films that followed. It’s…

“Diamonds are Forever” (1971)

The Plot

Diamond smuggling turns out to be, naturally, only the tip of the iceberg as a graying Bond (Sean Connery) unravels a chain of deception that leads him to a Las Vegas-based ultra-reclusive mega-tycoon (Jimmy Dean), and then onto 007′s not-actually-dead arch nemesis, Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Charles Gray). It turns out that killing Bond’s wife simply isn’t enough for the social climbing super-villain; he’s once again making 007′s life hellish while also having the bad manners to peddle thermonuclear supremacy on the world market. Bond, meanwhile, is nearly wearing out his license to kill.

The Backstory

Though it’s an underrated film and beloved of many serious Bond fans, 1969′s “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” with George Lazenby was deemed insufficient as a blockbuster. It did well enough abroad, but it’s all-important American grosses was about half that of earlier Bond entries. By 1970, Lazenby was already one for the “where are they now?” columns.

A replacement was needed, and so was a big hit. Stolid American heartthrob John Gavin (“Psycho“) had been contracted as a fall-back Bond, but moguls Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli and Harry Saltzman set their sights on the one actor alive least interested in stepping into the very big shoes of Sean Connery – Sean Connery. While the Scottish unknown-turned-superstar has always insisted he was very grateful for his Bond stardom, to all appearances, Connery was over James Bond — now and forever.

On the other hand, we all have our price. Connery’s was £1.2 million – quite a lot of money in 1970 and enough cash for the actor to start his own charity, the Scottish International Education Trust. To sweeten the deal, United Artists also allowed Connery the chance to take the creative lead on two of his own movies. The understanding was, however, very clear that Connery would never again play Bond…for the Broccoli and Saltzman’s EON team, at least, that turned out to be true.

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007 One by One: ‘You Only Live Twice’

Bullz-Eye is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the first James Bond film with look back at every Bond movie, 007 One by One, along with a series of features about the Bond franchise, all laid out in our James Bond Fan Hub.

As the worldwide spy craze peaks, the James Bond series settles in for the long, tongue-in-cheek haul with this often maligned but very enjoyable entry, introducing the world to both ninjas and the original Dr. Evil. It also might have been the final appearance of Sean Connery as 007, except that it wasn’t.

“You Only Live Twice” (1967)

The Plot

A United States space capsule is hijacked, killing one astronaut. Naturally, the Americans assume the Soviets are at fault and world war seems a real possibility. There’s only one thing for the level-headed English to do: Stage James Bond’s death and send him on an undercover mission to Japan to expose SPECTRE head Ernst Stavro Blofeld’s plot to dominate the world by partially destroying it.

The Backstory

With enormous success comes enormous pressures and change was very definitely in the air as “You Only Live Twice” began production. Now one of the world’s most bankable stars after the mega-success of “Thunderball,” Sean Connery was contractually on board for only one more film and starting to be seriously fed up with all the 007 insanity.

Behind the camera, original Bond director Terrence Young had had his fill and “Goldfinger” helmer Guy Hamilton was unavailable. Editor and second unit director Peter Hunt, who had been instrumental in the series’ creative success, badly wanted to helm the project, but producers Albert “Cubby” Broccoli and Harry Saltzman apparently weren’t ready for a first timer for Bond #5. Therefore, a new recruit was sought out to join the small fraternity of James Bond directors.

An old hand at period pieces and war films, Lewis Gilbert was hot off an Oscar nomination for a classic-to-be about a compulsive womanizer who could give Bond a run for his money. “Alfie” starred Connery’s good friend, fellow movie spy, and now award-winning box office rival, Michael Caine.

Lewis Gilbert also brought along one of the very few directors of photography who could have reasonably stepped into the very big shoes of series regular Ted Moore. Freddie Young had won the first of his four Oscars a couple of years prior for David Lean’s visually stunning 1963 70mm masterpiece, “Lawrence of Arabia.” For the sake of keeping things consistent, all the other key collaborators, were back on board in their regular roles, i.e., composer John Barry, credit designer Maurice Binder, and production designer Ken Adam. For once, they’d all have a nice budget to play with, too.

The script, however, was an issue. The novel “You Only Live Twice,” was the last Bond book published in Ian Fleming’s lifetime and the story was problematic for more than one reason. For starters, it was actually the third and final installment in what literary Bond fans call “the Blofeld Trilogy.” EON’s original intent had been to film the books in their original order. That way Blofeld, who had been teased as a character starting in “Dr. No,” would get his long-delayed onscreen introduction in “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” and finally suffer James Bond’s revenge in the follow-up, “You Only Live Twice.” Unfortunately, logistics made the ski chalet setting of “Majesty” impractical for the summer release EON and United Artists had their hearts set on.

The other problem was that the plot of Ian Fleming’s novel, which involved Blofeld setting up a lavish sanitarium for wealthy suicides, just didn’t seem to be the stuff of a James Bond movie. It also ended with Bond fathering a child with Kissy Suzuki. Only a few elements from the book would remain in the finished movie, most notably the Japanese setting, love interest Kissy, and friendly spy boss Tiger Tanaka.

There was also a problem with finding a writer. Richard Maibum, who had worked on every Bond up to this point, was deemed unavailable. A rumored screenplay by renowned author Kingsley Amis had been reportedly dismissed. Another script was commissioned by writer Harold Jack Bloom, but little of his work would remain in the finished film.

The final choice of screenwriter turned out to be an interesting one. Decades after his death, Roald Dahl remains one of the world’s most popular children’s writers with such film-friendly classics as “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” “The Witches,” “Matilda,” and “James and the Giant Peach” all too his credit. He might have seemed a far likelier choice for writing an adaptation of Ian Fleming’s children’s book, “Chitty Chitty Bang-Bang,” the gig that was apparently keeping Richard Maibum busy. Nevertheless, Dahl had written his share of adult thrillers and had actually performed wartime espionage and been friends with Fleming. Scads of 007-inspired spy spoofs were upping the humor ante and this would be a somewhat more tongue-in-cheek Bond. Dahl’s dark sense of humor would be a plus.

The main thrust of the film’s new plot was apparently invented by Cubby Broccoli, however. Upon seeing a dormant volcano while scouting locations, he came up with the idea of using it as a giant villain’s lair. With the U.S.-Soviet space race at full swing, the Russian-Chinese split a topical news item, and terrorism on the rise, the idea of SPECTRE hijacking spacecrafts in order to start a world war on behalf of Red Chinese clients seemed like a natural.

The Bond Girls (Rule of 3 + 1)

Once again, 007 does the espionage nasty with three beautiful women on his Japan adventure. Shockingly, however, the movie’s main love interest is not one of them.

Ling (Tsai Chow) — This lovely lady of Hong Kong engages in mildly racist pillow talk with Bond and then reveals herself to be an accomplice in the spy’s elaborately faked death. Though her part is small, actress Tsai Chow was already a recording artists and a major star of the London stage in “South Pacific” and “The World of Suzie Wong.” Her very long film career would include parts in “The Joy Luck Club,” “Memoirs of a Geisha,” and the 2006 Bond reboot, “Casino Royale.”

Helga Brandt (Karen Dor) — The latest Bond villainess with preying mantis-like tendencies, the dangerous Ms. Brandt is the secretary/in-house assassin of the wealthy SPECTRE operative, Mr. Osato. She has her way with Bond, then fails at killing him. It’s only natural that she winds up a victim of SPECTRE’s signature approach to personnel management, which in her case means being fed to the CEO’s pet piranhas. Actress Karen Dor has enjoyed a very long career in German films and television that continues to this day. She also appeared in Alfred Hitchcock’s unsuccessful spy thriller, “Topaz,” and the modestly titled horror flick, “The Torture Chamber of Dr. Sadism.”

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007 One by One – From Russia with Love

We continue our look at the film adventures of the world’s most beloved killer spy with the James Bond flick many critics and fans consider the best movie in the series, based on probably the most well regarded of Ian Fleming’s spy novels.

“From Russia with Love” (1963)

The Plot

After the death of their operative, Dr. No, SPECTRE is one rather peeved diabolical organization bent on world domination. Also, they could use some cash. The villains’ collective therefore devises a plan to steal a hugely prized Lektor decoding device from the Soviets by using the superspy responsible for No’s demise as a pawn. Endgame: Sell the device for a huge sum and kill James Bond. The bait will be the defection, with the Lektor, of a beautiful and unknowing Soviet operative working out of the Russian embassy in Turkey. She is another pawn, a loyal low-level agent who is tricked into cooperating and told to develop a romantic fixation on Bond. The proposal is such an obvious trap, and the Lektor such a desirable prize, that there’s no way the British secret service can possibly resist going to Istanbul for a look. It all wraps up in a sexy and violent trip on the legendary Orient Express and an exciting and dangerous (for stunt men) boat chase.

The Backstory

Following up on the success of “Dr. No,” the EON production team of Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli and Harry Saltzman elected to follow the lead of the series’ most famous fan. President John F. Kennedy had singled out Ian Fleming’s novel, From Russia with Love, as one of his ten favorite books in an issue of Time Magazine. Despite nearly 100 opening pages in which Bond does not appear, the story was more or less tailor made for a movie, and the rest was a matter of bringing back “Dr. No” writers Richard Maibum and Johanna Harwood to make the story more Hollywood friendly.

First of all, the relatively simple Stalin-era plot of the original novel was updated and complicated to avoid controversy. In light of the more morally complex Khrushchev era and the recent Cuban missile crisis, many viewers were likely to disagree with Ian Fleming’s extremely hawkish, if somewhat tongue-in-cheek, take on the Cold War. And, so a story about ultra-evil Russians trying to take out the West’s most effective counterspy with maximum collateral PR damage, became a tale involving SPECTRE’s desire to grow its cash and power reserves while manipulating MI6 and the KGB into a costly and unnecessary battle. Seeing as the production code was growing weaker even as the Bond budget was growing larger, the sex and violent action quotients was also bumped up considerably from the novel.

Along with newborn superstar leading man Sean Connery, dashing director Terrence Young returned for his second Bond outing after the success of “Dr. No.” Aside from allowing the talented Young to firmly set the tone for the series, bringing him back proved to be a wise choice. Often described him as something of a real-life James Bond, Young was the kind of steady hand the difficult shoot would require.

The challenges Young would face included several changes in locations, numerous reshoots, plus lots of difficult and dangerous stunt work. A scene involving hundreds of rats proved especially tricky because English law permitted only the use of white rats. When the animal wranglers placed cocoa powder on the rats to give them a less hygienic look, the rats were distracted, licking the tasty cocoa powder off themselves and each other. The scene wound-up being shot in Spain.

Murphy’s law was certainly in force on the second Bond film, but director Young took events in stride. He was reportedly back at work within hours after being involved in an apparently minor helicopter crash, though we’re not sure how a helicopter crash can be anything less than a big deal. More tragically, Young also had to deal with the news that key actor Pedro Armendáriz was terminally ill. (More about that below.)

The Bond Girls (Rule of 3 or, in this case, 4)

Yes, an apparent threesome boosts Mr. Bond usual number of consummated movie affairs. The “From Russia with Love” Bond girls are…

Sylvia Trench (Eunice Gayson) — Bond’s Chemin de Fer opponent from “Dr. No” returns. Trench was supposed to be an ongoing liaison in each of the films, but her lakeside tryst with Bond was to be her final appearance. We’re guessing that even a hint of sexual repetition was seen as too much of a hindrance to 007′s womanizing ways. Ironically, Gayson had originally tried out for the longer-lasting but more chaste role of Moneypenny.

Vida and Zora (Aliza Gur and Martine Beswick) — Bond watches with interest, and some concern, as a pair of extremely jealous Gypsy girls stage a to-the-death fight over a man,  but are interrupted by a sudden violent intrusion by a group of Russian-paid Bulgars. After Bond helps save the day for the Romany, it is strongly hinted that the hot blooded trio spend the rest of the evening making love, not war. (In the novel, Bond is more of a passive observer of some kinky bloodshed.)

As for the talented and lovely ladies who played Vida and Zora, Aliza Gur was a former Miss Israel and Miss Universe semi-finalist. She would later appear in such spy-themed TV shows as “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” and “Get Smart.” The Anglo-Jamaican Martine Beswick, who may or may not have been one of the dancing silhouettes from the “Dr. No” credits, would return to Bondage as Paula Caplan in “Thunderball” and enjoy a lengthy career as a busy working actress. A supporting role in 1966′s “One Million B.C.” would be followed by such low-budget productions as 1967′s “Prehistoric Women,” 1971′s “Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde,” and 1980′s “The Happy Hooker Goes Hollywood.” More upscale roles from the eighties and nineties included “Melvin and Howard,” “Miami Blues,” and the 1993 version of “Wide Sargasso Sea.”

Tatiana Romanova (Daniela Bianchi) — An idealistic operative who thinks she’s working for the Soviets in an operation designed to pass false information to MI6, Tatiana finds it easy to play the role of a love struck defector when she meets the dashing James Bond. Though her loyalties may be divided, her attraction to Bond is undeniable.

Since her character was described as resembling 1930s film star Greta Garbo in the novel, it was a sure bet that former Miss Rome and Miss Universe semi-finalist Bianchi would be lovely and charismatic, if not quite up to the acting standards of the great Garbo. Ms. Bianchi does, however, deliver a credible and very sexy performance, though her Italian accent was removed with a total voice assist from veteran English actress Barbara Jefford. Unfortunately, her best remembered non-”From Russia with Love” outing remains the notorious Eurospy spoof, “Operation Kid Brother,” which starred real-life Sean Connery kid brother, Neil. (Check out this slideshow for more pics of Daniela Bianchi)

Friends and Colleagues

M (Bernard Lee) and Moneypenny (Louise Maxwell) are both back for more banter. By this point, the pattern is being set for the character’s inevitably fun but equally exposition-heavy scenes throughout the series: It’s Moneypenny’s job to provide some flirtatious silliness and M’s job to make sure the frivolity doesn’t eat up too much screen time. The business with Bond throwing his seemingly unworn bowler hat on the hat stand makes a return as well. However, “From Russia with Love” gives us two additions to Bond’s onscreen colleagues, each in their own way legendary.

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