50 Years of Bond

As much as I dislike “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service,” that wasn’t necessarily the view of the series’ producers. Eon had offered George Lazenby a seven-film contract and originally wanted “OHMSS” director (and longtime 007 editor) Peter R. Hunt to helm “Diamonds Are Forever.” Lucky for us, both plans fell through, clearing the way for a reunion between “Goldfinger” director Guy Hamilton and Sean Connery (enticed with a record-setting £1.25 million payday and a promise to produce two passion projects of his choice).

Believing that he has killed Blofeld in the opening scene – and therefore avenged his wife’s murder in the previous film – Bond is understandably unenthused to be presented with a beneath-him assignment to investigate a diamond-smuggling operation. Little does he realize that Blofeld is behind this plan as well, having fooled Bond with a body-double in the earlier confrontation.

Gimmicks like that are what make “Diamonds Are Forever” the first in a new wave of Bond pics, adventures in which the already implausible is pushed to virtually laughable extremes (a few films later, Bond would be battling bad guys in space). Here, Blofeld has recruited two decoys to have their voices and faces altered to match his own – all the better to fool Bond. But why treble a new actor (the great Charles Gray, who played a good guy in “You Only Live Twice”) when you Eon could have instead convinced all the actors who had portrayed Blofeld to date (Donald Pleasance and Telly Savalas) to come back and boggle Bond’s mind. The challenge: Which of these men was the real villain?

In Ian Fleming’s novel, the villains were a pair of mobsters, the Spang brothers, though Eon could hardly follow up the downer ending of “OHMSS” by letting Blofeld off the hook, so they worked him into the plot, too. The continuity of these stories had long since been compromised: Book-wise, “You Only Live Twice” gave Bond a chance to kill Blofeld, though the two movies arrived in reverse order. As the series continued, Eon eventually reached a point where little more than the titles remained, plus the names of a few key floozies.

And so “Diamonds Are Forever” serves as a relatively pure exercise in spinning a plot according to what kind of set pieces and stunts might most delight audiences. Another Blofeld showdown? Check. Adding glitzy Las Vegas to the list of exotic destinations? Check. And of course, Lana Wood as Plenty O’Toole (“Named after your father,” har har) and Jill St. John as the barely-dressed Tiffany Case (inspiring the great line, “That’s a nice little nothing you’re almost wearing”).

Watching the movie last night with my younger brother, I was surprised by how recent he thought it was, assuming it was a mid-’80s installment. Though weary, Connery doesn’t look that old, and all those big American sedans certainly don’t look that new, but he was on to something: There’s a quality in the writing that still dominates summer tentpoles today.

The eye-rolling one-liners are still there (emerging from a sewer pipe in the middle of the desert, Bond offers, “I was out walking my pet rat and seemed to have lost my way”), but everything else has been engineered to match that same flip style. Whatever connection Bond had to the real world has now been severed in favor of delivering the most satisfying possible experience for audiences, such as a throwaway scene of Q using an electromagnetic device to beat the slot machines or allowing homosexual henchmen Wint and Kidd to devise elaborate (and yet easily escapable) traps. It’s silly, sure, but that’s precisely the tone the series would need to sustain what Roger Moore would bring to the role.

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