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: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

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.

You’ve seen “Skyfall,” now how about taking a look at the other best James Bond movie you’ve never seen?

Ask a hardcore Bond aficionado what his favorite 007 entry is, and there’s a very good chance the answer will be “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.”

We don’t necessarily want to make bold claims as to what the best Bond movie is, as it differs from person to person, but “Majesty’s” should be Top Five material for any die-hard fan of the franchise. The film is littered with all kinds of “firsts” and “onlys” — both in front of and behind the camera — but the most obvious is of course its lead, George Lazenby, and it’s with Lazenby that, for better or worse, most talk of the film begins (but should by no means end).

In the year 2013, we take for granted the changing of the lead actor within the Bond series, as we’ve now had a half a dozen different 007s, but back in the late sixties there was only one James Bond, and his name was Sean Connery. During the production of “You Only Live Twice,” Connery decided to exit the franchise that made him a household name (though as we now know today, he’d return to the character not once, but twice), however, quite understandably, the producers of the series weren’t finished telling their stories, and the public seemed far from tired of 007’s adventures.

So there was really only one option and that was to recast. The search was extensive, but in the end Bond producers decided on a complete unknown – Lazenby – a model with virtually zero acting experience. Regardless, Albert Broccoli was certain he could transform the man into his new James Bond.

The debate has raged for over 40 years as to whether or not the recasting was successful, with many schools of thought on the matter. Having viewed “Majesty’s” numerous times, we feel confident in saying that it’s a shame Lazenby didn’t give it at least one more go in the part (the decision to not return was, amazingly, his own), because as it stands, he cannot help but be somewhat swallowed up by the richness of his surroundings. One thing is for certain: Lazenby in no way ruins it, or keeps “Majesty’s” from being the best film it can be. “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” is a fine, fine movie, and one that deserves to stand on its own, away from the greater picture of the whole franchise, and Lazenby – as any lead would be – is at least partly responsible for its artistic success.

The Plot: “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” relies heavily on Ian Fleming’s original text, the last Bond film to really do so until 2006’s “Casino Royale.” The story is two in one: the first is about Bond’s hunting for and eventual finding of Ernst Stavro Blofeld, and the second is about Bond falling in love and getting married (yes, you read that right) to an initially suicidal young woman named Tracy. Her father, Draco, runs a crime syndicate, and has info about Blofeld’s whereabouts, which James requires. Turns out Blofeld is posing as a high-profile allergist in Switzerland. Bond tracks him there, and infiltrates his organization by posing as a genealogist. Once the jig is up, all hell breaks loose, and Bond finds himself on the run, and only one person can help him…

The Girls: Blofeld’s mountaintop Swiss hideaway, Piz Gloria, stockpiles quite the cache of babe-alicious flesh – including a very young Joanna Lumley (“Absolutely Fabulous”) as well as the lovely Catherine Schell (“The Return of the Pink Panther”). Odd then that James zeroes in on the homeliest looking one of the bunch, Ruby Bartlett (Angela Scoular). But then again, this is also that unique Bond flick wherein James falls in love, and perhaps going for runt of the litter was the only way for him to rationalize cheating on his beloved Tracy.

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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 – Thunderball

Critics and filmmakers may prefer “From Russia With Love” and “Goldfinger,” and many complain about those long underwater sequences but, to a lot of fans, Bond #4 remains the ultimate in spy action, intrigue, gadgets, and girls, girls, girls. It also remains the all-time box office record holder of all the Bonds. It’s also only the second, and so far final, Bond film to ever win an Oscar — for special effects of course.

“Thunderball” (1965)

The Plot

Unperturbed by the 007-related deaths of Dr. No, Red Grant, Rosa Klebb, and countless other operatives, the amalgamated baddies of SPECTRE return with their most diabolical plot yet. The plan this time is nuclear blackmail, as SPECTRE Operative # 2 takes possession of two hydrogen bombs and informs England and the U.S. that they’ll either part with £100 million or kiss one or two of their favorite cities goodbye. Without any viable strategy other than complete capitulation, the only respectable option for the free world seems to be sending Bond to kill, copulate, and skin-dive his way to victory over nuclear terrorism.

The Backstory

With the series chugging along at the rate of roughly one movie a year and a worldwide spy craze underway, an observer might well have expected that the James Bond phenomenon had peaked with the blockbuster success of “Goldfinger.” Then again, a lot of people in 1965 were also figuring that those flash in the pan teen idols, the Beatles, had peaked with “I Wanna Hold Your Hand.”

The EON Production team led by producers Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli and Harry Saltzman knew that their hot streak was still very much in play. They cannily chose to triple-down with a budget roughly three times higher than the already relatively high ($3 million!) “Goldfinger” budget and all-out marketing and cross-promotional blitz. As luck and skill would have it, the most eagerly anticipated Bond film would ultimately top the box-office success of “Goldfinger” by $20 million with a worldwide take of $141.2 million — not quite enough cash to satisfy a Bond villain, but getting there.

The amazing part is that the film was ever made at all, as the project had been plagued by legal difficulties for years. “Thunderball” began life as a screenplay that James Bond creator Ian Fleming developed with, among others, screenwriter Jack Whittingham and producer Kevin McClory. Fleming eventually tired of the complexities of getting a Bond movie on the screen and abandoned the project. He nevertheless used a great deal of the abortive script’s story in his 1961 novel of “Thunderball.”

Things got complicated when producers Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli and Harry Saltzman entered the mix. Broccoli and Saltman’s EON team originally initially saw “Thunderball” as the best kick-off for the Bond series, even if its action would have to be scaled back considerably to fit their budget. A lawsuit brought by Kevin McClory nixed the idea, even though writer Richard Maibum had already completed a screenplay.

The suit was eventually settled out of court by an ailing Ian Fleming. With Fleming having passed on and an obvious cash cow of enormous magnitude before him, victorious rights holder McClory agreed to an EON-produced film of “Thunderball” on certain conditions, including that he be the sole credited producer.

With McClory on board, it was time to reassemble the Bond team. Though flush with success, “Goldfinger” director Guy Hamilton pleaded exhaustion. In his stead, original Bond director Terrence Young was induced to return for one final outing, while such key personnel as editor Peter Hunt, director of photography Ted Moore, production designer Ken Adam, stunt man/action choreographer Bob Simmons, and composer John Barry all happily returned. As per the writing MO on the early Bond films, the work of American screenwriter Richard Maibum was given a more English make-over by a Brit, TV scribe John Hopkins. To handle the considerable challenge of filming underwater, EON turned to nature film specialists Ivan Tors Productions, who had achieved great success filming aquatic material for television with their hit shows,”Sea Hunt” and “Flipper.”

As for the stars, while the pressures of true superstardom were starting to weigh on Sean Connery, he was still on board and not yet ready to kill the golden but increasingly painful goose that was Bondage. For his leading lady, EON passed on three actresses soon to become superstars — Raquel Welch, Julie Christie, and Faye Dunaway — before settling on their final choice. More about that below.

The Bond Girls (Rule of 3 + 2)

Bond keeps up his sexual batting average with his usual three trips to home plate in “Thunderball.” Oddly enough, while more than maintaining his rascally ways when it comes to women, he manages what appear to be purely professional relations with two of the film’s five “Bond girls.”

Madame LaPorte (Mitsuoaka): The part was uncredited, and we never find out much about the French operative who assists Bond’s revenge mission against Jacques Bouvar in the opening sequence. Even so, the subtly exotic Madame LaPorte definitely lends an air of intrigue to the opening adventure. The French-Eurasian actress, Mitsuoaka, born Maryse Guy, was a former stripper who seems to have spent a lot of the sixties riding the spy wave around Europe, having already appeared in such early sixties capers as “License to Kill” and “Agente 077 Missione Bloody Mary.” She passed on in 1995.

Paula Caplan (Martine Beswick): Bond’s gorgeous “island girl” assistant appears to be an entirely competent MI6 operative. Even though we’ve barely seen them even flirt, Bond is clearly upset when she meets an unpleasant but honorable end under the custody of SPECTRE — though not so upset that he can’t handily boff an attractive enemy operative. Very much a cult star in her own right, this marks either the second or third and final Bond-girl appearance for actress Martine Beswick. She had also played one of the feisty-but-affectionate Gypsy women in “From Russia with Love” and might have appeared as one the dancing silhouetttes in the “Dr. No” credit sequence.

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