Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Guy Hamilton’

I’m always on the lookout for a chance to do something new and innovative on the blog, not to mention a chance to showcase my freakish ability to identify obscure actors in minor roles. And so, hot on the heels of our look at Lust for a Vampire, featuring David Healy in the small but relatively important role of Raymond Pelley (aka Angry Father of Early Victim), I thought we would move on and examine another Healy movie from 1971 – Guy Hamilton’s Diamonds are Forever, in which the actor treats us to his take on Vandenberg Launch Director (an uncredited performance). (Other movies featuring the work of Mr Healy which are reviewed on this blog include You Only Live Twice, Phase IV, and The Ninth Configuration.)

Oh, who am I kidding, it’s just a coincidence (I’m still quite proud to have spotted him though). When you’ve spent nearly seven years reviewing virtually the entire canon of Eon Bond movies, you do start to run out of ways to start them off, but as this is the very last vintage Bond to cross off my list, that’s one problem I probably won’t have to worry about much in future.

Diamonds are Forever is one where Connery came back, for an enormous fee and for one film only, after an arguably rather overconfident George Lazenby decided not to stick around in the part. Fleming’s original novel provides about a third of what happens on screen, as Bond finds himself mixed up in diamond (well, duh) smuggling in Las Vegas, taking on sundry gangsters including the gay hitmen Wint and Kidd. Fairly soon, however, it all mutates into much more standard Bond movie fare, to wit Bond Plot 2: evil mastermind has nefarious scheme involving satellite-based superweapon. Other points of interest include the scene where Q uses his talents to defraud a casino, the one where Blofeld (Charles Gray) dresses up as a woman, and the one where Natalie Wood’s kid sister gets thrown out of a hotel window in her pants.

In the past I have commented on how the addition of SPECTRE and Blofeld to films based on books in which they did not appear often resulted in the improvement of the story. I’m not sure the same can be said in this case; while the presence of Blofeld in this movie was probably inevitable given how the previous one ended, all that results is a fairly bland piece of by-the-numbers Bond – the boxes of the formula get dutifully ticked, but not much new gets added to the recipe.

You could view Diamonds are Forever as the conclusion of the first phase of Bond movies, which nearly all concern themselves with Connery’s Bond taking on SPECTRE in various ways. From being virtually ever-present in the early films, neither SPECTRE nor Blofeld would really feature again for over forty years after this point, and I have to say that while this may have been forced on the film-makers for legal reasons, making most of the Roger Moore movies standalones with new villains does give them more variety and life. I’m always much more entertained by the blaxploitation or chop-socky stylings of the early Moore films than by anything in Diamonds are Forever.

One way in which Diamonds are Forever does set a precedent for the rest of the series is that it establishes that it is perfectly acceptable for Bond to be an older gentleman. Connery was in his early 40s by this point, and the part wasn’t played by anyone younger than this until the advent of Craig (who was only a couple of years shy of 40). Fleming’s Bond is said to be 37 at one point in an early novel, so it’s not as if this is wildly at odds with the source material. Quite what one should make of Connery’s performance here is another matter – as someone pretending to be a smuggler, he certainly has the ‘smug’ part down pat. One never gets the impression that Sean Connery has a problem with a lack of self-belief, and in this film he’s practically a battering ram of entitled self-satisfaction.

This is not especially good news for a film which has an odd tonal problem – there’s some quite hard-edged violence at a couple of points (there are sequences which trouble the TV censors more than most older Bond films), but coupled to a slightly camp tone. All the Bond films are essentially masculine wish-fulfilment fantasies, but it somehow feels more obvious here than in many other cases, and in a particularly unappealing and slightly sleazy way. Connery gets the dodgy ‘collar and cuffs’ gag (to be honest, I’m not sure he or Blofeld has an interaction with a woman in this film which isn’t basically patronising, although Bond is pretty patronising to most of the men, too), and there’s the very dated and frankly dubious (if not outright offensive) material with Wint and Kidd to consider as well.

One of the dated elements of the movie which occasionally draws attention is the rather peculiar sequence in which Bond, having infiltrated the enemy base, discovers what appears to be the filming of a fake moon landing in progress. This was 1971, after all, when the Apollo programme was an ongoing thing, and it has been suggested that this is a not terribly deeply coded signal as to what was really going on at the time. Quite how Eon got wind of the lunar hoaxes and why they decided to blow the gaffe in this slightly oblique way is never really adequately explained, though.

It would be nice to find more genuinely positive things to say about Diamonds are Forever – I suppose I’ve always enjoyed Charles Gray’s performance, and the theme song is good too. In the end, though, this is Bond as an almost totally mechanical, formulaic spectacle, and entirely lacking in the lightness of touch and charm which the best films of the series possess. A bit of a disappointment however you look at it.

 

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

Crikey, here we are at the end of May – only five months to go until the release of Skyfall, by which point I hope to have finished looking at all the other Bond movies (well, apart from the original version of Casino Royale, and as for Never Say Never Again… mm-mm, we’ll see). Better get on with it then. Let us proceed with one of the (surely) indisputable masterpieces of the form, Guy Hamilton’s 1964 adaptation of Goldfinger.

Preening Scots-Swiss poseur and sex maniac James Bond (Connery, natch), who in his scarce free time does a little light duty as a civil servant, is put on the trail of Auric Goldfinger (Gert Frobe), an industrial magnate suspected of being a major-league gold smuggler. (There’s nominative determinism in action for you and no mistake.) Bond is quite pleased about this as a previous encounter resulted in Bond getting bopped on the head and his then-girlfriend being painted to death (inventive stuff, this). Following one of the very few exciting games of golf in the history of the world, Bond ends up trailing Goldfinger to Switzerland, where the villain straps him to a table, points a laser gun up his trouser leg and threatens to cut off his benefits. Quick thinking on Bond’s part saves both his life and his social life, and finds himself whisked off to the States where Finger has bigger goldfish to fry. Oh, hang on a minute…

I’m being more than usually facetious about the plot of Goldfinger, but if any film can take it it’s this one – if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, this is surely the most sincerely flattered film in history: of the twenty Bond movies to date which have followed it, all of them owe it a huge stylistic debt, and most of them cheerfully reinterpret key sequences. (To say nothing of the legion of Bond knock-offs down the decades.) Obviously this is not the first Bond film, nor perhaps the best (I think From Russia With Love still pips it, but only just), but it marks the point at which the Bond movies went from being a well-received and lucrative series of films to the iconic, world-conquering phenomenon they have remained for most of the intervening time.

So what’s different about Goldfinger, what made this the tipping point – or, if you prefer, the critical mass – for Bond? I think all the answers you need are in the first five minutes or so of the film. After the white circle/gun barrel routine, we see Bond emerge from the briny deep with a stuffed duck upon his head, sneak into the base of some politically-motivated heroin smugglers, blow lots of stuff up, remove his wetsuit to reveal an impeccable tuxedo, and attempt to kill some time by getting down to it with a nightclub dancer (but end up having to kill an assassin instead). At which point the greatest Bond title sequence of the lot slams in and Dame Shirley starts belting out the theme tune. In other words, we get daft sight gags, silly gadgets, carnage, a little bit of sex, an implausible violent death, a bad pun and just enough plot to keep everything else coherent: if that isn’t the classic Bond formula boiled down to its essentials I don’t know what is.

It is, of course, utterly ridiculous as the stuff of a serious thriller – although apparently the tuxedo-under-the-wetsuit gag was inspired by a real mission during the Second World War – but, crucially, the film is entirely aware of this and lets you know it, mostly through Connery’s very tongue-in-cheek performance. The whole of the film operates on this level – silly, but knowingly and fashionably silly, and the results are winning.

One of the interesting things about this film, watching it today, is how difficult it is at times to actually engage with Bond as the central character. My father, when watching this film, is wont to exclaim ‘How smug!’ at the end of many of Goldfinger’s big scenes – but he’s no more smug than Bond, most of the time. Bond himself is not just smug but a terrible snob – he declares the Beatles are unlistenable (I wonder if anyone told Paul McCartney that when he was working on Live and Let Die?) – and relentlessly patronising towards all the female characters. The most striking difference between Bond and Goldfinger, who are both bon viveurs of the highest order, is that the hero is young, saturnine and athletic, while the villain is middle-aged, pale and fat: we are perhaps getting uncomfortably close to the underlying politics of the Bond series here.

This is a James Bond film, of course, so James Bond is obviously going to be the hero. But even so… A friend of mine has been watching a Bond film most Sundays of late, and sharing his reactions with the world, and his response to Goldfinger was that it has very dodgy sexual politics, most obviously in the scene in which Bond forces his attentions on Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman) – she initially resists, but her struggling rapidly changes to passionate enthusiasm.

One could automatically respond that this is a Bond movie, and so of course the sexual politics are going to be very dodgy – but even so, this is still a slightly troubling moment, made worse by the fact that it’s crucial to the plot – there’s no other reason given for Pussy’s change of allegiance, which is the sole reason Goldfinger’s schemes fail, but Bond’s magic shagging powers. It would have been easy to enough to make her oblivious of the lethal element of Goldfinger’s plan until informed of this by Bond, at which point her better nature would lead her to renege – but I suppose the magic shagging was easier to script.

I can’t find it in my heart to be too hard on a script as tight and well-thought-through as this, which in a couple of places indeed improves on the novel. There’s still the awkward requirement for a sequence in which Goldfinger explains his plan at great length to a group of people who he’s planning to kill minutes later, which is not the most elegant plotting, but the rest of it is fairly exemplary.

So exemplary, in fact, that Eon have spent some of the time since Goldfinger was made trying to figure out a different and better way of telling the story of a Bond movie. They have met with only limited success, which means that the rest of the time – the majority of the time – they have essentially been remaking Goldfinger over and over again with superficially different characters, settings and plot vouchers. Possibly not the best of the series, but very, very near the top of the pile, and arguably one of the essential movies of all time.

Read Full Post »