Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Best Worst Bond Movie

The weakest moment in the Goldfinger movie comes when Goldfinger, for no logical reason, gasses to death an entire room full of mob bosses. This was the only change from the book that didn't make any sense. In the book, Goldfinger kills off his accomplices too, but quite a bit later in the story. The movie begs the question of why Goldfinger would explain his plan to these people if he's just going to kill them a minute later, or why he wasted all that time on the elaborate death for Mr. Solo. Obviously the producers were hoping that we'd be too entertained to ask those questions, and they were right.

Well, Diamonds Are Forever, which I watched again this past weekend, is like an entire movie made up of scenes like that: scenes that either look cool, or sounded cool when they were pitched, but make absolutely no logical sense. Most of the first third of the film has Blofeld's gay killer henchmen, Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd, bumping off various diamond smugglers in gruesome ways. Some of the killings are pretty funny, some aren't, but most of them don't even try to make sense. The spectacular illogic reaches a climax when the bad guys give Bond "one last chance" to tell them where the diamonds are after they've nearly cremated him alive in a coffin (if you've just shown that you're going to kill him no matter what, what exactly are you going to threaten him with?). Other famous "huh?" moments include Bruce Cabot showing up to kill the Howard Hughes surrogate even though he was never actually told to do so, and, of course, the oil rig "climax" where the producers didn't have time or money to shoot an actual ending, so they just randomly blew shit up. Saltzman and Broccoli cared so little about plot logic that they cut the scene that would have explained why the Lana Wood character ends up dead in Jill St. John's pool, even though they'd already filmed it and it was only like a minute long.

Diamonds Are Forever may not be the worst Bond movie ever, but it's probably the second-dumbest (nothing can compete with Moonraker, which I also find weirdly entertaining). You probably are familiar with the story behind it, how after George Lazenby quit, the producers lined up John Gavin to play James Bond, but United Artists decided that they'd pay Sean Connery literally anything he wanted to be Bond one more time. There was a palpable desperation surrounding this film, because the spy craze was over -- all the Bond ripoffs and clones were gone by 1971 -- the movie business and the audience had changed a lot in the last two years, and the franchise had been showing diminishing returns (You Only Live Twice and even On Her Majesty's Secret Service did well, but each of them did worse than the Bond movie before it) . So the movie that they put together was campy, incoherent, disjointed and sleazy, the product of a team that isn't really sure whether the public will buy what it's selling.

It's also the product of a team determined to re-hash Goldfinger. As the Wikipedia entry recounts, the original idea for Diamonds was to be a literal sequel to Goldfinger with Goldfinger's twin brother as the villain, and with diamonds standing in for gold as the gleamy thing of choice. Even with Blofeld, or rather "Blofeld" (Charlie Gray's campy villain would be far better-liked if they hadn't tried to pretend he was Blofeld; why didn't they just take away the cat and give him a new name?) as the villain, the Goldfinger elements are all over the place: the exposition scene with Bond, M and an old British coot; the Shirley Bassey theme song; the largely American setting; the creatively gruesome methods of killing. And Saltzman and Broccoli brought back Guy Hamilton, the director of Goldfinger. Wanting to keep the series going, they tried their best to learn from their biggest hit. Part of the campy fascination of Diamonds is that it's half Goldfinger pastiche and half elements that the producers kinda sorta thought were popular but didn't really understand; in trying to make Bond more appealing to the American market, they wound up giving the picture a Rat Pack-ish lounge-lizard feel that hadn't been hip in America for years. It's a 1971 movie made by people who have only just managed to update their style to 1965. A movie that casts Jill St. John as the lead in 1971 is several years behind the cinema curve. (Don't get me wrong: I like Jill St. John, and she looks great here as she usually does. But even in the '60s, she was somebody who usually played decorative sidekicks and only got cast in leads when somebody else was unavailable -- as, in fact, happened here; she was supposed to play the smaller bimbo part of Plenty O'Toole, but was promoted, presumably because the producers needed to balance out Connery's salary with somebody who'd work cheap. Saltzman and Broccoli had so little knowledge of how to cast female roles in the '70s that they seriously considered bringing back Ursula Andress for Live and Let Die.)

But that's what I find fun about Diamonds Are Forever; there are few movies that better embody the problems of the old-school movie in the post-Easy Rider era. Only a few years earlier, Bond had been the cutting-edge movie series that everybody in the world tried to copy; now suddenly it's a '60s relic trying to get along in a new world. The fact that the movie never acknowledges that there's anything dated about Bond's act, or that Connery is too old to be doing the same stuff he was doing in the early '60s, is oddly entertaining. Ken Adam's sets look surprisingly tacky; the sexual innuendo is clumsy; the plot makes no sense; it has all the familiar elements of the Bond formula but not a single one of them is executed with any confidence or competence. If the series had just died there or died soon after, it would be a sad movie to watch; since we know that the series was unstoppable, I find it one of the most entertaining bad movies out there, an unintentional fish-out-of-water comedy about an early '60s series stuck in a new world where movies are different, moviegoers are different, and movie studios are different. In many ways, the story of a balding, pudgy James Bond trying to do Goldfinger in 1971 Vegas achieves, unintentionally, what Robert Altman was intentionally trying to do with Philip Marlowe in The Long Goodbye two years later. A clash of old values with the early '70s world. Oh, and we get to hear Jimmy Dean say "Baja."

Finally, on a Bond tangent: Have you noticed that Saltzman and Broccoli always, almost always, offered the next Bond movie to the last person who had directed it? Terence Young was the Bond house director up until Thunderball; didn't direct Goldfinger because he wasn't available, not because they didn't want him. Peter Hunt, the editor for the first five films (whose presence was sorely missed in the early '70s movies; editor John Glen, who had a similar style, brought back snappy editing for Spy Who Loved Me), directed On Her Majesty's Secret Service and was asked to come back for Diamonds, but didn't. So Guy Hamilton came back to do Diamonds and not only did the two after that, but was initially hired to direct Spy Who Loved Me despite his underwhelming work on the last three films. Then Lewis Gilbert did two in a row, and finally John Glen became the first Bond director who never turned down an offer to direct a Bond movie -- probably because he didn't really have a lot of offers from anyone other than Cubby Broccoli. It was as if nothing a director could do, not even The Man With the Golden Gun or A View to a Kill, could induce Cubby to fire him; it was the same way with writers, since Tom Mankiewicz worked on every Bond movie in the '70s and Richard Maibaum, of course, was almost as much a fixture as Broccoli himself. The series isn't like that quite as much now, but in Broccoli's time, it was like a movie series made by a very small, insular clique. That has its problems, and it's understandable that outsiders -- including would-be Bond directors like Tarantino and Spielberg -- have gotten frustrated at the Broccoli family's refusal to allow newcomers into their treehouse.


Baskingshark said...

All absolutely dead on, except I am 99 and 44/100% sure that there's a scene where Blofeld is on the phone to Bruce Cabot and he says something like "Mr. Whyte has just out-lived his usefulness", the intonation being that he's about to tell Cabot to go kill Whyte.

And nothing tops the sequence where Tiffany treks all the way through Circus Circus for about 35 unnecessary minutes to pick up the vile green stuffed dog that's full of diamonds. Or the blue-green hotpants outfit she wears in the casino right before Blofeld grabs her when he's in drag.

And why exactly IS there a lunar-roving vehicle / moon maching / whatever you call it being tested at Blofeld's secret underground desert lair?

It's also interesting that Tiffany drives a big red 1971 Mustang. In some ways, the development of the car mirrors the development of the series at this point. Tilly Masterson drives a yellow '64 in Goldfinger (and Fiona Volpe had one in Thunderball too). Ford engineered the appearance in Goldfinger as part of their deal to provide cars for the film and to get publicity for the then-new small sporty Ford that people were going wild for as THE car to drive. By the time Tiffany's car rolled off the production line, the Mustang had become a bigger, glitzier, more bloated, middle aged version of its former self, something of a relic of a (just) bygone era, rather like the movie.

Jaime J. Weinman said...

I am 99 and 44/100% sure that there's a scene where Blofeld is on the phone to Bruce Cabot and he says something like "Mr. Whyte has just out-lived his usefulness", the intonation being that he's about to tell Cabot to go kill Whyte.

Yeah, but he's talking to Bond, who is using that voice-box thingie to impersonate Cabot. So Blofeld thinks he told Bruce Cabot to kill Jimmy Dean, but he never actually did, but Cabot shows up anyway. He's like the Radar O'Reilly of henchmen, knows what his boss is thinking before he says it!

Baskingshark said...

Whoa! You're absolutely right. I can't believe I never noticed that!

Ricardo Cantoral said...

Woah, what a nice long post about James Bond ! let me address a few things:

"The movie begs the question of why Goldfinger would explain his plan to these people if he's just going to kill them a minute later, or why he wasted all that time on the elaborate death for Mr. Solo."

Harry and Cubby always thought of the viewiers. They only cared about if the audience is entertained and not about logic. They wanted to give Goldfinger a chance to address the gangsters just like in the novel simply because it was a good part. The Bond philosphy is, as long as it's enteratining, it's going to be in the film.

As for DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER, it's Goldfinger taken to a further extreme. I think it was the funniest Bond film ever made, even funnier then most lampoons of the series. I forgive the lapses of logic because between the great one liners, the great character acting of Bruce Glover as Mr. Wint, the fun Las Vegas atmosphere, and the great stunts, you don't really care about the plot at all.

I think the only thing that really didn't work was the finale. Ultimatley, there is no tension as stuff randomly explodes which was actually and accident on the set. The explosives went of too early and Guy Hamilton was told just shoot film it as is. Also worst of all, Blofeld's fate is not given any clarity at all to the viewer. He returns 10 years later in the pre-title sequence in FOR YOURS EYES ONLY as the villian who controls the helicopter Bond was flying in. The reason why he was disposed of so early was because it was a poke at Kevin McClory, the man who owned the rights to SPECTRE and Blofeld. The story as to why McClory owned the character is summed up here:


Going back to DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER, the orginial ending was actually far more bizarre. From the IMDB:

Richard Maibaum's original idea for the ending was a giant boat chase across Lake Mead with Blofeld being pursued by Bond and all the Las Vegas casino owners who would be sailing in their private yachts, which, apparently, would include mock-ups of a Roman galley, a Chinese junk, etc. Bond would rouse the allies into action with a spoof of Lord Nelson's famous cry, "Las Vegas expects every man to do his duty." Alas, Maibaum was misinformed; there were no Roman galleys or Chinese junks in Las Vegas, and the idea was too expensive to replicate, so it was dropped. Maibaum may have thought the eventual oil rig finale a poor substitute, but it was originally intended to be much more spectacular. Armed frogmen would jump from the helicopters into the sea and attach limpet mines to the rig's legs (this explains why frogmen appear on the movie's poster). Blofeld would have escaped in his BathoSub and Bond would have pursued him hanging from a weather balloon. The chase would have then continued across a salt mine with the two mortal enemies scrambling over the pure white hills of salt before Blofeld would fall to his death in a salt granulator. Permission was not granted by the owners of the salt mine, and it also made the sequence too long.

Also one last thing, DIE ANOTHER DAY was the dumbest Bond film ever made.

Anonymous said...

re Bond's near cremation, IIRC Bond was posing as a British gangster/smuggler carrying diamonds. He's knocked out by the Las Vegas gangsters who take the diamonds he's smuggling (inside the alimentary canal of a corpse in the coffin Bond is escorting to Vegas; this is revealed in the scene where Felix Lieter is posing as a customs agent) and dump him into the crematorium. However, they discover the diamonds are fake and pull him out before he's burned alive.

Edward Hegstrom said...

Definitely want to agree that DIE ANOTHER DAY is the dumbest Bond. It's the only one I think is absolutely unwatchable, and like DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER, one that is severely, painfully out of its time. With the Madonna theme song and cameo and whiplash editing style, it might have seemed vaguely cutting edge five, ten, even fifteen years earlier, but by 2002 clearly was desperately striving to appeal to a younger generation while abandoning everything that made the Bond series worthwhile in the first place.

As bad as the early seventies and early eighties Bond pictures were, they still felt like part of the franchise. DIE ANOTHER DAY seemed more like a knockoff of XXX.

Ricardo Cantoral said...

Edward: Exactly my friend ! DIE ANOTHER DAY didn't even have god damn plot ! ALl nineteen films were basically cut and pasted to make that crappy film. For example, Gustav Graves' motivations and plot was basically a combination of GOLDENEYE, the MOONRAKER novel, and DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER. Also could we get anymore frickin' lasers ? An invisible Aston Martin ? A henchman who looks like a reject from the Matrix films ? I am foaming at the mouth just thinking about it.

Getting back to DAF, depsite it's lack of logic, at least had witty dialogue and good preformances. DAD had some of the stupidest, most infantile, sex jokes I ever heard in a Bond film. Take this "classic" from example:

(Madonna who comments on Graves' and Bond's rivarly at Blades): "I don't like cock fights"


Anonymous said...

Great post. While I really dislike the film, as much for the missed opportunity of following up Tracy's death in OHMSS as anything else, you've hit on the interesting qualities it has. I also think the one liners in this film are pretty good: they are much more risque, but they just get away with them through the sheer audacity of doing such ooutrageous lines. (I'm thinking in particular of the "right idea... but wrong pussy" line). Of course, that act got very old quickly and hit rock bottom by the time of the final "Christmas" joke of TWINE.

Re the commenters on DAD - I think that film actually starts really well (the idea of Bond as possibly having been brainwashed / flipped is right out of Fleming's MWTGG), but it unfortunately just falls apart completely in the second half.

Ricardo Cantoral said...

"as much for the missed opportunity of following up Tracy's death in OHMSS as anything else"

I like DAF but that was definetly the biggest crime the series commited, forgetting about Tracy. Oh well, at least we had Fleming's wonderful novel, YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE.

"I think that film actually starts really well (the idea of Bond as possibly having been brainwashed / flipped is right out of Fleming's MWTGG"

Not really brainwashed but more like tortured into giving up secrets. Still, it was a gimmick that is forgotten right after Bond escapes from MI6 custody. Boy, James was really lucky that his yacht club was only a short swim away from were MI6 was holding him.

Anonymous said...

PcUnfunny: Hopefully Quantum of Solace (which judging from the trailer is centered largely on Bond's quest to avenge Vesper's death) can fulfill a bit of the promise of that basic idea.

There's a great line in Jim Smith and Stephen Lavington's book on Bond films, referring to the bit in DAF where Moneypenny flirts with Bond by suggesting he bring her a diamond attached to an engagement ring. As they put it: “Surprisingly Bond doesn’t respond by shouting, ‘My wife was murdered at the end of the last film you heartless cow!’”

Ricardo Cantoral said...

"(which judging from the trailer is centered largely on Bond's quest to avenge Vesper's death)"

I would say it's Bond's motivation but it really won't be about avenging Vesper. Remember that was just a teaser and one of it's goals was to establish the connection between CASINO ROYALE. The plot is quite good and I am dying to see some interaction between Dominic Greene and Bond. Also I am psyched that Marc Foster is directing the movie because not only he's an excellent film marker but is vision will be noticable.

Title designer Daniel Kleinman will not be returning for this film. A group called Mk12, who done work for Foster in the past, will take over Kleinman's duties and they are extremely talented. Also veteran production designer Peter Lamont, who worked along side the great Ken Adam dating back to Goldfinger, won't be making it for QOS. Foster has hired Dennis Gassner to capture the spirit of Adam but also to give Bond a new and smarter look. I'd say things are looking up for this film. Sorry to ramble on but I am as big a Bond fan as I am a cartoon fan. ;)

“Surprisingly Bond doesn’t respond by shouting, ‘My wife was murdered at the end of the last film you heartless cow!’”

LOL !!!!!!!!

Ricardo Cantoral said...

Oh let me add a comment Jill St. John as Tiffany Case. At beginning of Diamonds are Forever and until about the time she was caught by Blofeld, she was a pretty smart character. She was street smart and was able to assist Bond to a reasonable capacity. So she was sort of close to the literary Tiffany Case but enjoyable nonetheless. Then when she gets cuaght by Blofeld, she becomes complete retard. She bungles trying to help Bond and when she uses a machine gun, it forces her to steadily move off the oil rig and fall into the sea.

Baskingshark said...

Originally, Tracy's death was to take place in the pre-title sequence of DAF, but this idea was scrapped when Lazenby quit as Bond.

I have a theory about Tiffany Case - she's tough and brash roughly up to the point where she finds out that Bond is Bond and not Peter Franks - which is roughtly the same point where it becomes apparent that she's in something much bigger and messier and more dangerous than she thought. So maybe she's putting on the helpless ditz act because she thinks that's what will get Bond to protect her..?

Ricardo Cantoral said...

"So maybe she's putting on the helpless ditz act because she thinks that's what will get Bond to protect her..?"

But she didn't need worry about that since Bond already was protecting her through out most of the film.

Diablo III Man said...

it's nothing to laugh at.

Anonymous said...

Definitely want to agree that DIE ANOTHER DAY is the dumbest Bond.

I disagree. For me, GOLDFINGER and DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER tie as the two dumbest Bond movies in the franchise's history.