Wednesday, 27 July 2011

BlogalongaBond / Diamonds Are Forever: Blofeld Blows It Again

The commercial disaster of On Her Majesty's Secret Service left the James Bond phenomenon in crisis. The only way forward was to look backward, and so Sean Connery was lured back with a massive cheque, Goldfinger's director Guy Hamilton was hired to make Bond fun again, and Tom Mankiewicz was told to inject more humour into his script, which was based on a dream Cubby Broccoli had. Apparently this is a perfectly valid way to write a Bond film.

Sadly Hamilton and Mankiewicz confused 'fun' with 'funny' and 'humour' with 'comedy', and the result is a decent story smothered by stoopid gags and ludicrous plot devices designed purely to raise a LOL or two.

Now I don't mind a good double entendre or a subtle, relevant visual gag in a Bond film, but in Diamonds Are Forever there's a fruit-machine-playing elephant, a chase across a fake lunar landscape inexplicably featuring slow-motion-running astronauts, and a pair of gay hitmen with comedy haircuts. And Mr Wint and Mr Kidd aren't the only ones raising the camp factor: Connery himself is only five minutes of photoshopping away from turning the pre-title sequence into a Carry On film.
The film's biggest crime, however, is its insulting decision to ignore everything OHMSS worked towards. The murder of Bond's wife is never even mentioned, and Bond himself doesn't appear to have been remotely affected by the brutal slaying of the only woman he truly loved, apart from the fact that he looks like he's tried to find happiness at the bottom of a freezer full of Pukka Pies.

Treated with equal disdain is the once enigmatic, now laughable figure of Ernst Stavro Blofeld. At one point Blofeld, for no adequately explained reason other than to get some cheap laffs, wears a dress, full make up and the same wig in which Dick Emery was prancing about on his none-more-'70s TV show. It's a glaring visual metaphor for the series as a whole: where once Blofeld had been classy, threatening and mysterious, he was now reduced to a punchline; an old queen just dying to go "I'm just stroking my pussy, ooh pardon!"
The Bond films' depictions of Blofeld over the years have never fully satisfied, neither in comparison to the books nor as original creations for the movies. Blofeld should have been Bond's Moriarty, his Joker, his Darth Vader. Instead he's Bond's Dr. Evil. Mike Myers probably gave himself a huge pat on the back for coming up with Austin Powers' nemesis, but in truth all the work was done for him by the Bond screenwriters.

Diamonds Are Forever marks Blofeld's fifth and, thankfully, final (kind of) appearance in the Bond films, ignoring a typically ludicrous (for the Moore era) cameo in For Your Eyes Only. He only appeared in three of Fleming's books, dramatically altering his appearance in each one, which I suppose gave the filmmakers an excuse to do the same - although the fact that it's never referred to on screen suggests it's more of a coincidence than a deliberate choice. In 'Ian Fleming's James Bond', John Griswold's exhaustive examination of the novels, illustrator George Almond shows how Fleming described Blofeld in each book:
In the films, however, the depictions were even more inconsistent, except this time without explanation.

In From Russia With Love, we never see the head of the head of SPECTRE, although his subordinates do. It's a nice touch and makes for an interesting and typically '60s master villain, especially at a time when we were constantly being told that the nearest dirty commie could be anyone. Christ knows why he's stroking a fluffy white cat though, the ponce.
By Thunderball, he doesn't even want his minions to see his features, so he hides behind shutters. This must make it tricky for him to see whose contract he's terminating in an improbably over-the-top fashion, but in a Cold War where nobody was trustworthy I suppose it makes sense to prevent yourself being identified by possible double agents. Or maybe he's hideously disfigured?
In You Only Live Twice, it turns out he's hideously disfigured. Not only that but he's short and bald and now has a silly squeaky voice. This reveal was kinda fun when I was eight, but the boring grown-up Bond fan I've become now wishes he'd stayed hidden. The threat and tension are immediately dissipated when it appears Bond could defeat Blofeld with a good tickle.
OHMSS's Blofeld had surgery to remove his earlobes, which makes sense in the context of the plot, but simultaneously took the opportunity to fix the scar, grow a few inches, add a mole to his left cheek, turn on the charm and speak with an American accent, which doesn't. In actual fact Telly Savalas makes quite a good version of the literary Blofeld, but his resemblance to his From Russia With Love self is negligible.

By Diamonds Are Forever, our confused antagonist has grown hair, changed his accent again and developed a penchant for cross-dressing. He wants to make copies of himself, which seems pointless when he can apparently change his entire appearance and demeanour at will, and claims that "science was never my strong suit", despite having spent the previous film developing viruses for use in chemical warfare.



Mercifully, after Diamonds Are Forever, EON Productions more or less left Blofeld alone. This was partly because the rights to the character were owned by Kevin McClory, who co-wrote the screenplay on which Fleming based 'Thunderball', and who was prepared to sue the asses off Broccoli and Saltzman if they used SPECTRE or Blofeld again.

With Connery saying "never again" again and SPECTRE and Blofeld off-limits, it was time for the third consecutive overhaul of the franchise. The tongue-in-cheek, raised-eyebrow strategy had paid off but someone with more cheek and more agile eyebrows was required to drag Bond, smirking and preening, into the 1970s and beyond. Only time would tell how much Moore the audience could take.


Bambi and Thumper
While the fact that a reclusive billionaire's entire security force consists of two female gymnasts is emblematic of Diamonds Are Forever's wilful stupidity, the scene in which Bond is beaten up by acrobatic totty is probably the most fun to be had in the whole film. It's the first time 007 gets into a decent scrap with the fairer sex (his tussle with Rosa Klebb just consisted of waving a chair at her, while Pussy Galore's tumble in the barn was basically foreplay) and it's the only time he gets a good hard kick in the knackers, which sadly - for those of us by now fed up of Connery - happens offscreen.

The rare moment of actual comedy
Not long after dispatching Bambi & Thumper, Bond and Willard Whyte hide behind a rock while Whyte's former lieutenant Bert Saxby takes pot shots at them. When Saxby is eventually shot and Whyte realises who's been trying to kill him, he exclaims "Tell him he's fired!" Connery's wordless reaction is funnier than all the homosexual villains, cross-dressing megalomaniacs and moon buggy escapes put together. Imagine that.

The score
John Barry - "The Whyte House"
As usual, the best thing about the worst Bond films is the score. John Barry pulls out so many great themes this time that you forgive him for helping to make some of the characters as comical as they are. He also pours so much sleazy loungecore into his Las Vegas themes that I daren't ever go there in case this music isn't playing on an eternal loop at ridiculous volume.


And finally: As Plenty O'Toole, Lana Wood's sole purpose in Diamonds Are Forever is to set up knob gags. The first, a cheap shot about her name, is just baffling, but the second is much better:

Having just disrobed Plenty in his hotel room, Bond discovers three men pointing guns at him.

BOND
Good evening... I'm afraid you've
caught me with more than my hands up.

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5 comments :

  1. LastReelReveal27 July 2011 12:32

    The most amazing things I'm finding through Blogalongabond is just how many times Bond "means his cock". These all went over my head when I watched them on ITV when I was much younger

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  2. "Blofeld should have been Bond's Moriarty, his Joker, his Darth Vader. Instead he's Bond's Dr. Evil."

    Spot on about score and especially about Blofeld (hence the quote)

    I too am liking the regular pointing out of cock gags

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  3. e bond movies are great and dated but good overall, though we could make changes as there is too much unnecessary scenes and necessary scenes( that were left out)

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  4. It's nice to think about the variety of Number 2 actors in The Prisoner. They weren't meant to be the same person, I understand, and Blofeld is, but that seems to be the vibe they were going for ie don't even try to make him the same, go for totally different each time. Had he appeared again, it would have been nice to see Robert Morley or Burt Lancaster have a go.

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