Lin-Manuel Miranda’s first big musical hit the stage running on Broadway back in 2008, and there was an instant interest in making it into a film. But, as often happens, those plans stalled, and it wasn’t until after the smash success of Hamilton that work on In the Heights The Movie got going again. I thoroughly enjoyed the stage version (although I didn’t see it until 2016) and so was naturally keen to see the film – and, for the most part, it doesn’t disappoint at all!
Like the show, the film offers a snapshot of a few days in Washington Heights, a Dominican-American area of New York (or Nuevo York, to make it clearer), and sets Usnavi at the centre of the community, running his little bodega at all hours of the day, accompanied by his smartass cousin Sonny. Stanford University undergraduate Nina arrives unexpectedly, much to the delight and concern of her father Kevin, who runs the local taxi company, and even more to the delight of Benny, the taxi controller, whose tongue hangs out (figuratively) every time Nina appears on the scene. But why has she returned? Meanwhile, Vanessa, who works at the beauty salon, dreams of getting her own place, and Usnavi dreams of having a relationship with her but she’s just too beautiful for him to dare make the first move. Will they get it together? And who is the lucky winner of $96,000 in the lottery?
Yes, there are a few plot and sequence changes from the original show; always a risky undertaking if you’re showing the film to a purist. I did like how Usnavi’s future relationship with Vanessa was left to your imagination in the stage show, whereas that’s not the case in the film; and there are a couple of times where the film’s approach to the tough reality of life is a little blander – Usnavi’s shop doesn’t get ransacked during the blackout, for example. Either way though, it’s a good story, well told.
Both the show and the film suffer from the same overload of exposition in its first half-hour or so. There’s a lot of information that is hurled at the audience right from the start, that it’s impossible to keep up with everything you’re being told – particularly when so much of it is coming via the medium of hip-hop/rap/Latin lyrics. There are big dance numbers which overwhelm the senses, and whilst they look and sound great, they can have the effect of getting in the way of the storytelling. In fact, it’s only when the music stops that you can really give yourself a chance to reflect and take stock of what’s been happening. As a result, quieter scenes such as the confrontation between Kevin and Nina concerning her Stanford career, and Usnavi’s important discussions with his accountant, stand out for their clarity. It also tends to dip into sentimentality a little more than I’d like – there’s only so many times you can watch Usnavi get misty-eyed over the four youngsters to whom he’s telling his story.
But there’s no doubt that the dance numbers form most of the stand-out moments of the film. I particularly liked The Club scene, which felt just a hair’s breadth from West Side Story, and the Carnaval del Barrio, which genuinely shows how dance can emerge as an organic reaction to the steamy Latin conditions of life. A personal thing, but I was irritated by the occasional moments when the dance scenes moved into the surreal – such as Benny and Nina dancing on the walls of the block, or the guys on the street plucking seemingy tangible shapes out of mid-air. Those gimmicks didn’t enhance the songs or the dance. Musicals are already one step away from reality; in my humble opinion, they don’t need to be made even more impossible to believe! However, we couldn’t help but laugh at the use of Hamilton’s You’ll Be Back as holding music on the phone; they must have had a lot of fun at that idea.
It’s studded with excellent performances by a young company of largely impossibly beautiful people. It goes without saying that all the performers are supreme singers and dancers, bringing Lin-Manuel Miranda’s songs and Christopher Scott’s empowering choreography to ebullient life. Leslie Grace is stunning (in all ways) as Nina, looking fondly on her old neighbourhood friends but with the slight distancing of someone who has been subjected to more intellectual challenges. Melissa Barrera is also fantastic as Vanessa, trying for a better life, opening the door for Usnavi to approach her. Daphne Rubin-Vega is brilliant as salon owner Daniela, challenging the neighbourhood to get a life, and young Gregory Diaz IV turns in a quirky and lovable performance as Sonny – he’s obviously going places.
Abuela Claudia is played by Olga Merediz who took the part on Broadway, so it seems only right that she should have the role here, but I couldn’t help but think she seemed a little young to be playing a character who dwindles away with old age before our eyes. But it’s Anthony Ramos who takes control of this film as Usnavi, perfectly conveying the character’s Everyman-type role; eminently likeable, full of empathy, with a wry sense of humour (is it just me who thinks he looks like a Puerto Rican Jon Richardson?), perfectly playing to the camera in his role as narrator. A first-rate performance.
It’s not a perfect film – at two hours, twenty minutes it felt a little long, and occasionally self-indulgent with the sentimentality; and sometimes the immense pizzazz of the whole thing obstructs the clarity of the storytelling. One of my pet hates in a musical is when its songs neither further our understanding of the characters nor push the story forward, and In the Heights is occasionally guilty of this. However, I think I’ve been more critical about this film than it truly warrants. It’s extremely enjoyable, there are huge dollops of feelgood factor, and it has that wonderful, sometimes elusive element, a happy ending!
I knew nothing of this film in advance, apart from the fact that it concerned dementia and that Anthony Hopkins has been widely acclaimed as having given one of his best performances ever. If you haven’t seen the film, I think it’s best to stay in blissful ignorance about most of its content so that it’s endless shocks and surprises hit you with all possible force. However, if you have seen it, or are prepared to risk reading more about it in advance – please continue!
There’s nothing Florian Zeller likes more than to deceive his audience. A few years ago we saw two of his plays at the Menier Chocolate Factory, The Truth and The Lie, both ridiculously entertaining plays involving deceit between couples but also leading the audience up several garden paths with hardly any way of knowing which is the right one. And now Florian Zeller has directed his own 2012 play The Father for a cinema audience; so the one thing you can be sure of is that you can be sure of nothing.
What you can reasonably assume is that Anthony has dementia and his daughter is trying to find a way for him to receive the best care treatment possible. Anything beyond that, and you’re straying into the world of the uncertain. But the delightful (if that’s the right word) web of confusion that the film weaves gives us a brilliant, albeit awe-inspiringly tragic, insight into Anthony’s true lived experience. After sleeping on it, I decided on my own interpretation of what was real and what was not. My interpretation is that the first scene is true; Anthony has dismissed his carer Angela in a whirlwind of insults and accusations, and daughter Anne says they have to find a better solution for his care, as she will be moving to Paris to live with her new partner, and will no longer be able to pop around all the time. The last scene is also true; Anthony is now living in a care home, with a kind nurse Catherine to look after him and take him for walks in the park. Everything in between is the mass of confusion in Anthony’s mind as he copes with (or fails to cope with) moving from his flat into the home.
This superb film can trigger a strong emotional response. Whether it is because of pent-up frustrations leading from months of lockdown, or because it reminded me of my own mother’s descent into dementia I’m not sure (I suspect the latter), but once the film had finished I had massive tears in my eyes, and, once out back on the street, I confess I bawled my heart out for about five minutes. So be warned!
The screenplay is perfect – Zeller in collaboration with his frequent partner/translator Christopher Hampton – and contains so many of the tell-tale phrases and obsessions of a dementia patient, such as “so you’re abandoning me” and being convinced that their possessions are being stolen. And the use of music is brilliantly integrated into the film, particularly the frequent repetition of what was presumably one of Anthony’s favourite pieces, Je Croix Entendre Encore from Bizet’s Pearl Fishers – an aria appropriately about memory and recollecting distant moments of love. I also admired the fact that the film told its story fully and compactly, all within the space of 1 hour 35 minutes, continuing to prove that old adage, that brevity is indeed the soul of wit.
Without question, Sir Anthony Hopkins is absolutely at the top of his game with his portrayal of his namesake Anthony, a wonderful mixture of the irascible and the helpless; the kind of character who can sometimes “present well” when trying to make a jolly impression on his new carer, who carries on regardless when a circumstance arises that clearly makes absolutely no sense to him, who can lash out with vicious verbal spite and cruelty, and who can dwindle away into infantile crying – the perfect representation of Shakespeare’s Seventh Age of Man, in fact.
The ever-reliable Olivia Colman is also excellent as the much put-upon but kindly Anne; her eyes conveying all the love in the world for her dear old father even though she knows that caring for him is both beyond her capability and also not what she wants from life. Rufus Sewell, Imogen Poots, Olivia Williams and Mark Gatiss all give strong supporting performances, drifting in and out of his life, and not always as the same character.
A hugely impactful, stunning film. Whilst there is always a kind of gallows humour to be found in dealing with dementia, if you’re expecting a lot of laugh out loud moments, you’ll be disappointed. Instead it offers you a remarkable insight into the tragedy of a jumbled mind; don’t forget the Kleenex.
In which James Bond sets out on an unofficial mission to track down Scaramanga, who has sent MI6 a golden bullet with 007 carved on it; he has to find Scaramanga before Scaramanga finds him! However, there are no photographs of his enemy, so no one knows what he looks like – whereas everyone knows what Bond looks like. A big task for 007, but is he up to the challenge? Of course he is!
For a pay cheque of $240,000 plus 2.5% of the profits, Roger Moore was willing to reprise the role of Bond for a second shot. This would be the last time that producers Harry Saltzman and Cubby Broccoli would work together as Eon Productions; after the film was released, Saltzman sold his 50% stake in Eon’s parent company, Danjaq, to United Artists, the legalities of which delayed the appearance of the next film, The Spy Who Loved Me, for three years. The Man with the Golden Gun was a box office success, although not as successful as Live and Let Die, grossing $97.6 million at the box office on a budget of $7 million.
Ted Moore was once again engaged as Cinematographer, but was replaced during filming by Oswald Morris, due to illness. Morris didn’t want the job, because he’d been in the position of taking over from another cinematographer several times before, knew the pitfalls, and he didn’t enjoy it. But he was wined and dined by Cubby Broccoli and allowed himself to be bribed into it. Morris was a seasoned cinematographer whose first film, The Card, was made in 1952, and whose last, The Dark Crystal, was in 1982. This was Morris’ only work on a James Bond film; and it was also Ted Moore’s last, even though he remained active in the industry for the next eight years. Raymond Poulton returned as editor, along with John Shirley; Guy Hamilton returned for his fourth and final time as Director, refusing to do more Bond films afterwards as he had run out of ideas. Regular composer John Barry returned to score the film but only had three weeks to work on it, and considers it the least successful of all his scores for Bond. Design was by Peter Burton, who had designed Thunderball, and the screenplay credits were shared by Tom Mankiewicz, who wrote the first draft, and Richard Maibaum, who was brought back to revise it.
The Man with the Golden Gun was published posthumously in 1965 and was the twelfth and final novel in Ian Fleming’s series of books, although Octopussy/The Living Daylights was published later as a collection of short stories. Fleming wrote it in the first few months of 1964 but ill health prevented him from enhancing the bare bones of it, and the relative thinness of the plot is probably due to the fact that Fleming never had the opportunity to fill the story out at a second re-writing stage. As often happened, some of the characters were based on people Fleming knew in real life; he was at school (and often fought with) a boy he loathed by name of George Scaramanga.
The film is a very loose adaptation of the book. In both, Bond works his way into meeting Scaramanga, whose weapon of choice is a gold Colt 45 that shoots golden bullets; eventually he corners Scaramanga and kills him. Beyond that, the film and the book diverge. In the book, Bond had been brainwashed in the Soviet Union into attempting to assassinate M – fortunately he fails; Scaramanga’s evil plans are to destabilise the Jamaica sugar industry, with drug running and smuggling prostitutes as side interests; and Bond meets up with old CIA pal Felix Leiter who helps him to kill Scaramanga. The book is largely set in Jamaica, but the production team thought that was too repetitive after Live and Let Die, so they relocated the story to Macau, Hong Kong, and Thailand, which allowed them to cash in with some karate and kung fu scenes that were very popular at the time – but nothing to do with the book. The characters of Nick Nack, Andrea Anders, and Pepper were all creations for the film.
Perhaps unexpectedly, the book received polite, if lukewarm reviews. Knowing that its writer was ill when it was written, and had since died, reviewers tended to give Fleming the benefit of the doubt. The Observer commented “perhaps Ian Fleming was very tired when he wrote it. Perhaps … he left it unrevised. The fact remains that this posthumous Bond is a sadly sub-standard job.” Time magazine was less generous, saying “it may have been just as well that Fleming died when everybody still thought he could do no wrong.” Ian Fleming’s biographer, Henry Chandler, noted that the novel “received polite and rather sad reviews, recognizing that the book had effectively been left half-finished, and as such did not represent Fleming at the top of his game.”
The film, however, couldn’t blame problems with the screenplay on a largely unfinished novel. The Guardian was savage with its critique, saying that “the script is the limpest of the lot and … Roger Moore as 007 is the last man on earth to make it sound better than it is.” The New York Times considered the film to suffer from “poverty of invention and excitement”, criticising the writing and Moore’s performance and finding Hervé Villechaize as Nick Nack and Christopher Lee as Scaramanga, as the only positive points for their “sinister vitality that cuts through the narrative dough”. Of the more recent reviews, American critic Danny Peary wrote that the film “lacks invention … is one of the least interesting Bond films” and is “a very laboured movie, with Bond a stiff bore, Adams and Britt Ekland uninspired leading ladies”.
As usual, the opening credits begin, with Maurice Binder’s iconic glimpse of Bond walking across the screen whilst being captured by the barrel of a gun, only for him to turn around, see us, and shoot; and then for the blood to start filling up the screen. What makes it slightly different in this film is the rather jaunty, easy-listening treatment given to Monty Norman’s James Bond Theme, with some enjoyable strings and brass.
The opening scene features Scaramanga and Anders on a beach, being brought some champagne by Nick Nack – her sensually drying him off providing the cue for some visual humour with the fizz popping and spuming in time with the sexual undertones of the scene. Then there follows a rather long and drawn out encounter between a Chicago gangster who’s been engaged to kill Scaramanga both as an exercise for keeping Scaramanga alert and on top of his game, and also for the chance for Nick Nack to inherit his money if the gangster were to be successful. After being confused and disturbed by a number of fairground attractions, that have been installed in Scaramanga’s lair, Rodney the gangster is disadvantaged and Scaramanga eventually kills him instead. However, it’s all rather slow and humourless, and comes across as probably the least interesting opening scene of any Bond film so far.
Then the credits resume with Lulu’s performance of The Man with the Golden Gun, an innuendo-filled theme that has not stood the test of time at all well. “He has a powerful weapon […] Love is required whenever he’s hired […] Who will he bang? […] He’ll shoot anyone with his golden gun.” The silhouette of a naked dancing lady cheers the title sequence up a bit, but for the most part it’s a rather unimaginative series of faces and bodies distorted by water reflection. They’re insufficiently artistic to impress you with the artistry, and insufficiently sexy to inspire you the other way. In fact, the film doesn’t have a lot going for it so far!
And the locations? The original plan – which sounds bizarre today – was to film in Iran, and in fact the creative team travelled out there to spec out locations. But on their way back, the Yom Kippur War started and that put an end to that plan. So Plan B was for Bond to track Scaramanga down through an eastern Odyssey of Macau, Hong Kong and Thailand, plus, of course, M’s office in London. Some of the filming took place around the capsized Queen Elizabeth in Hong Kong Harbour, before the authorities removed it. Whilst filming in Hong Kong the cast and crew stayed at the Peninsula Hotel, which also features in the film and looks every inch the best place to stay. As does Hai Fat’s pad in Bangkok – the location for filming his Pad Thai (sorry, I had to include that pun) was the Hong Kong Dragon Garden, in the New Territories. The outside of the Bottoms Up strip club was filmed in Kowloon, although the interiors were filmed at Pinewood; and they used the floating Casino de Macau because there weren’t any casinos in the more “puritan” Hong Kong.
Bond, James Bond. Although he received quite a lot of criticism for his performance, I thought Roger Moore warmed into Bond better than he did in Live and Let Die. He’s less smarmy, less of a smart-arse (although I’m sure you can blame the scriptwriters for that), a little more animated and a little more believable. He does get to say the magic words, Bond James Bond – in fact, the full “Good evening, my name is Bond, James Bond” when he introduces himself to Beirut Belly Dancer Saida, played with enthusiasm by sometime Royal Shakespeare Company actor Carmen du Sautoy (the “du” is omitted from the credits on the film.) He also says it when he introduces himself to Lazar. A rather dark tone is set by having the character of Bond noticeably more sadistic in this film. He gives Andrea several slaps about the face, he rejoices in aiming to shoot Lazar in his nether regions, and he even pushes the souvenir-selling boy out of the boat. Apparently, Moore wasn’t happy with either his treatment of Andrea or the boy, believing that Bond would have worked out a more elegant solution to both problems. Lazar’s goolies, however, seemed to be fair game.
Boo-boos. As always, a few mistakes made their way onto the screen. When Andrea Anders is sitting, dead, next to Bond, you can see Maud Adams move twice; once her nostril flares, and another time you can see the level of her hat go up and down in time with her breathing. And when Nick Nack starts flinging the wine bottles at Bond to keep him at bay, hardly any wine splashes out from the bottles – because they’re fake, empty bottles! And then when Bond and Goodnight walk around all the glass debris, they don’t cut themselves. When Bond gets roughed up in Saida’s dressing room, you can see the reflection of camera and crew members in her full length mirror; and you can also clearly see the actor who plays the mannequin of Al Capone blink twice.
The Bond Girl. As usual, it’s not entirely clear at first who is going to develop into the role of Bond Girl at the beginning of this film, and to be fair, the honours are shared by having two Bond Girls. First we see Maud Adams, as Andrea Anders, Scaramanga’s lover, reclining sexily on the beach; and as her part in the story increases, she starts to switch sides to Bond’s favour. She reveals to Bond that it was she who sent the bullet to MI6, to encourage Bond to seek Scaramanga out and kill him, because she saw that as her only chance of escaping his clutches. However that disloyalty dooms her to an early death; thus she’s the tragic Bond Girl in this film. Maud Adams was born in Lulea, Sweden, in 1945 and also plays “The Bond Girl” in Octopussy, in 1983. She’s enjoyed a long and successful career as an actor and model.
Playing the more positive and sunny aspects of Bond Girlhood is Britt Ekland as Mary Goodnight, who was originally written as Bond’s secretary in the novels by Fleming, but by the time of The Man with the Golden Gun, Fleming had imagined her as an agent based in Kingston, Jamaica. Britt Ekland plays Mary Goodnight with more vacuousness than is really good for her – part intentional, and part not. The Sunday Mirror described Goodnight as “an astoundingly stupid blonde British agent”. Britt Ekland was also born in Sweden, in 1942, and has also enjoyed a long and successful career as both actor and celebrity. Although there are two Bond girls in this film – for the first time in the series – although I think Goodnight trumps Anders, to be considered as the main Bond Girl – if only because she’s still alive in the final reel.
What Bond Girls Are Like. Apart from the Japanese heritage that sets You Only Live Twice’s Kissy apart from the rest of the Girls, our currently agreed list of attributes common to the Bond Girls is: sexy, exotic, unpredictable, as equally likely to attack Bond as to support him, strong and self-reliant up to a point, sometimes tragic, professional, scary, vengeful, bossy – but with a vulnerable side. How well do these two Bond girls conform to the role? Goodnight has some of those qualities – she definitely gets resentful when she thinks Bond is with another woman – and she’s also rather dumb and liable to get things badly wrong, such as when she turns on the Manual Overide (sic) button with her bottom, without realising it. Where Goodnight brings a certain clumsy charm to the Bond Girl persona, Andrea Anders brings sophistication as well as being dangerously vulnerable. So, on the whole, both girls fit the bill pretty well.
The Villain. In an unusual structure for a Bond film, we meet the villain in the first few seconds. Francisco Scaramanga, played by Christopher Lee, is a top-notch assassin, charging a million dollars per kill, known for his personal secrecy and anonymity. From that point of view he is a million miles away from the likes of Goldfinger, who lives a brash and showy lifestyle. He has a fascination with all things circus, because his father used to run one. Allegedly, the boy Scaramanga was a trick-shot pistol marksman at the age of ten and by the age of fifteen was an international assassin-for-hire. I blame the parents. Whereas most Bond villains are very snappy dressers, always appearing immaculate in their expensive suits, Scaramanga is a much more casual type, frequently found loafing around in his open necked shirt. Nevertheless he is charming and urbane, and generous in his appreciation of others’ talents. He’d still kill you as soon as look at you, though. Christopher Lee, best known for his appearance in countless horror movies, was actually Ian Fleming’s step-cousin, and Fleming’s own first choice to play the role of Dr No back in 1962. He was born in 1922 and died in 2015 at the age of 93.
Other memorable characters? Probably even more memorable than the villain himself, is his sidekick Nick Nack, who acts as his personal servant, butler and henchman, enabler of villainy, encourager of challenges and all-round aide-de-camp. Unusually, he doesn’t actually die at the end of the film, he’s simply hoist inside a dangling cage on the junk sailing out to sea. He was played by Hervé Villechaize, a French-American actor born in Paris in 1943, who got his big break with this role, and who went on to spend seven years as Tattoo in the American TV series Fantasy Island. Despite his success and popularity, his is a sad story; he died by suicide in 1993, unable to endure the chronic pain he suffered from having internal organs too large for his small body.
Clifton James returned as the loutish Sheriff J. W. Pepper, a creation of the writer Tom Mankiewicz, who had written him into Live and Let Die. He was given this extra role because Guy Hamilton had really enjoyed him in the previous Bond film. Here he is on holiday with his souvenir-hunting wife Maybelle, first getting splashed by Bond being chased, and then being pushed into the canal by a baby elephant. He accidentally gets caught up in Bond’s car chase – an experience he thoroughly enjoys. Personally, I thought he was a dire inclusion in Live and Let Die, but provides a good comic interlude in this film.
Elsewhere, Richard Loo played Hai Fat, the millionaire Thai industrialist who had paid Scaramanga to assassinate the inventor of the Solex energy device so that he could steal it. It’s an enjoyable, no nonsense performance. Richard Loo was originally a businessman, but the Wall Street Crash made him think again, and he ended up appearing in around 120 films, The Man in the Golden Gun being his last film appearance.
There’s also a nice performance by Soon-Taik Oh as Lieutenant Hip, Bond’s contact in Hong Kong and Bangkok. Born in Korea, his family emigrated to the United States just before the Korean war, and he enjoyed a successful acting career on stage, TV and in film – his biggest success being the voice of Fa Zhou in Disney’s Mulan. His agent was Bessie Loo – the wife of the aforementioned Richard Loo! And Marne Maitland played the self-confident but ultimately outsmarted Lazar, the gunsmith who creates Scaramanga’s bullets; he appeared in many TV programmes and films over the years, including Pandit Baba in Granada TV’s The Jewel in the Crown.
As usual, Bernard Lee and Lois Maxwell reprise their roles as M and Moneypenny; she just for one scene, but M, unusually, appears in four scenes, because he travels out to Hong Kong to keep an eye on what Bond is up to. His secret office is located on board the capsized Queen Elizabeth, in a piece of genius set design and imagination. Q is back, having missed out on Live and Let Die, still played by Desmond Llewellyn, and is given a couple of opportunities to dismiss and disapprove of Bond’s tactics and demands.
And what about the music? John Barry was his own worst critic for his soundtrack for this film, and is quoted as saying “It’s the one I hate most… it just never happened for me.” Ironically though, I feel that the oriental instrumentation on the familiar themes makes rather a pleasant change on the ears. There’s not much in the way of incidental music though, and what little there is, is rather repetitive. Lulu’s voice for the title theme doesn’t feel as though it suits the style of the song to me at all, and it certainly doesn’t feature in the list of iconic Bond themes and performances.
Car chases. There’s one exciting car chase where Bond, accompanied by a buoyed-up Pepper, drives a car out of a showroom (directly through the plate glass) and takes it on a mad run, following Scaramanga and Nick Nack through the streets of Bangkok; with the inevitable accompaniment of also being chased by the police. There’s one particularly exciting scene where Bond performs a corkscrew jump to cross a river, but it’s ruined by a ridiculous comedy swanee whistle sound effect, which John Barry later regretted because it undermines the entire stunt. Before then, there’s also a boat chase through the klongs of Bangkok, with Chula and others from the Karate School tracking Bond over water, until their boat gets stopped by another turning around, and Bond takes the opportunity to slice it in two by driving through it.
Cocktails and Casinos. No cocktails here, just plenty of champagne, including a bottle that pops saucily on the beach in the opening credits, another bottle opened between Bond and Andrea after he’s given her the rough treatment, the bottle of Phuyuck (not strictly champagne, and an obvious pun intended) that Bond shares with Goodnight at the Thai hotel and one that Scaramanga treats as target practice when he greets Bond as he arrives on his island. There is also one casino scene – it’s at the Casino de Macau where Andrea receives the golden bullets from Lazar.
Gadgets. There are some gadgets, but the majority of them are used by the enemy. Lazar’s gun, made for a client missing two fingers, where you squeeze the butt rather than pull a trigger; the Solex Agitator itself (“the essential unit to convert radiation from the sun into electricity on an industrial basis”, according to Q), the false third nipple that disgusts Q, the homing button on Goodnight’s dress. The golden gun itself is a cleverly constructed piece of kit, as it gets made out of three other golden accessories! But the crowning glory must be Scaramanga’s car that converts into an aeroplane.
In Memoriam. In a running count of deaths in Bond movies, Dr No previously held the record for the lightest number of fatalities at around 11; Thunderball is looking pretty heavy at around 50 people; but Diamonds are Forever is lethal at around 70. How does The Man with the Golden Gun compare? Let’s briefly look back at those who gave their lives so that Bond can finally have his junk and a good night (with Goodnight):
Rodney, the gangster
3 guys in Saida’s dressing room (but they might not be dead)
Two men who die in fights to the death at the Karate School (one of them is definitely dead, the other might just be stunned!)
Ten or so left clinging on to life at the Karate school (who knows how many of them are dead?)
That’s actually a very modest toll for a Bond movie.
Humour to offset the death count. It’s a sad reflection on the film that there are very few of the regular smart-alec bon mots whenever someone dies or whenever someone has a sexual encounter. The few funny lines that there are, tend to be given at other plot points.
When Saida realises that her belly-button charm is missing after the fight in her dressing room, she cries “Ah! I’ve lost my charm!” “Not from where I’m standing” replies Bond.
When Bond catches Andrea in her hotel room shower, and she opens its door to reveal a gun pointing at him, he asks, “a water pistol?”
When Bond explains that Hai Fat invited Bond to dinner, he tells Hip, “he must have found me quite titillating.”
Goodnight talking of how she killed Kra (by pushing him into the absolute zero helium tank): “I laid him out cold”.
Bond, to M, who wants to speak to Goodnight on the phone whilst Bond is making passionate love to her: “She’s just coming, sir.”
Any less frothy elements? So once again it’s time to consider if there are any outstanding themes or elements that don’t sit well with today’s audience, and perhaps surprisingly there’s not a lot to go on. There’s a little latent racism from Pepper towards the locals; and the creepy henchman Kra, treating Goodnight’s body as a plaything doesn’t feel entirely right. But this is an under-written Bond, so there’s little scope for offence.
Bizarre other stuff that occurred to me and a few observations.
My original reaction to the film was that it’s quite dull, boring and with very little story! Watching this film, it felt for the first time that my James Bond Challenge could be an arduous experience. There are two main scenes of exposition – the first two that feature M – where we find out what Bond’s tasks in the film are. Everything else is how he does or doesn’t meet those tasks, so it feels very pedestrian. However, I must admit that after watching it three times, I warmed towards it a little – it has an understated elegance which is quite appealing. It does, however, truly miss out on humour.
Although Oswald Morris was unhappy at taking over the role of cinematographer from the ailing Ted Moore, visually this film is superb. It’s down to the script that sometimes you feel like it’s more of a travelogue than a spy movie, but it always looks luscious.
It’s never explained why the three thugs attack Bond at the Beirut night club. If they’re working for Scaramanga and guarding Saida’s bullet-belly-button-charm, so that no one can trace it back to him, you can’t help thing there are easier ways of keeping that charm safe. But as someone said many years before – it’s best not to think too hard about the plots of Bond films. It was a nice touch for Bond to squirt the great smell of Brut into one of those henchmen’s faces, as Moore had been part of an advertising campaign for the company.
The fascination regarding solar power seems very old hat now! Many people now have their own solar panels on their roofs. It’s hard to believe it was once seen as a route to world domination.
A duel to the death seems remarkably formal and traditional – but it was a feature of Fleming’s novel. It was based on the duel in the 1955 film, Shane. Scaramanga describes it as “the only true test for gentlemen”. Although the script is slight, the fact that Nick Nack will inherit all Scaramanga’s wealth if Bond kills him does add an unexpected twist to the final showdown.
The actors who played Hip’s two young lady companions – his “nieces”, whom Bond at first tries to protect, but turn out to be karate experts – were actually members of a local judo club. But are they really his nieces? Maybe Bond is not the only womaniser on MI6’s side.
Wei Wei Wong, who played the topless waitress at the Bottoms Up club, and who also danced in the opening titles, appeared in a few films but was best known for her Saturday night BBC TV appearances as part of the light entertainment dance troupe, The Young Generation.
Why did Hip and the two karate girls drive off and leave Bond behind?
To sum up: Despite a few nice moments and surprising subtleties, I’d say this was the worst of the Bond films so far. The primary problem is with the script, which is lifeless and boring, and doesn’t provide any memorable lines or jokes. Although it may not have been Britt Ekland’s sparkling vocal delivery that got her the job in the first place, her performance tends towards the bland and faltering. Moore is better than in his first role, and the cinematography is excellent. Otherwise this is a very disappointing film! There would be a three year wait until the next film, The Spy Who Loved Me. Let’s hope it’s worth the wait!
My rating: 2 Sparkles
All photos from the film of course belong to their various copyright holders.
In which James Bond is sent to eliminate ruthless Caribbean dictator and heroin supremo Dr Kananga (aka Mr Big), in an escapade involving voodoo, tarot, crocodiles, snakes and sharks. Will our hero prevent Kananga flooding the heroin market with two tons of free product so that he becomes the world’s only supplier? Of course he will!
Producers Harry Saltzman and Cubby Broccoli were desperate to sign Sean Connery up to play Bond for the seventh time, but not even a pay cheque of $5.5 million would tempt him. Instead, they considered many other actors, including Julian Glover, John Gavin, Jeremy Brett, Simon Oates, John Ronane, and William Gaunt. They favoured Michael Billington, who was best known for his appearances in TV’s The Onedin Line, but when Roger Moore became available, his star status was too much of a draw for them to ignore.
Ted Moore returned as Cinematographer again, for the first time since Thunderball, with editors Bert Bates (who had worked on Diamonds are Forever), Raymond Poulton (who would also return for The Man with the Golden Gun) and John Shirley. Guy Hamilton returned for the third time as Director; regular composer John Barry was unavailable and Paul McCartney, who had written the title track, was too expensive, so the producers chose George Martin – who was, of course, The Beatles’ producer – to compose the score. Design was by Syd Cain, who had designed From Russia with Love, and the screenplay was by Tom Mankiewicz, who had played a major part in revising the original script of Diamonds are Forever, and would go on to contribute to three later Bond movies. Live and Let Die, however, would be the only film for which he received sole credit for writing the screenplay.
Live and Let Die was published in 1954 and was the second book in Ian Fleming’s series of James Bond novels. Fleming had actually finished writing it before the first book, Casino Royale, was published. It was written at his Goldeneye estate in Jamaica, and was originally intended to have a more serious tone than its predecessor. Its original title, The Undertaker’s Wind, describes one of Jamaica’s winds that, allegedly, blows all the bad air out of the island. Many of Fleming’s own experiences were incorporated into the story. Scuba diving with Jacques Cousteau inspired the description of swimming out to Mr Big’s boat; his friend Patrick Leigh Fermor’s book The Traveller’s Tree, which had also been partly written at Goldeneye, is full of information and insights about voodoo. Even the character of Solitaire took her name from the local Jamaican rufous-throated solitaire bird.
The previous film, Diamonds are Forever, was the last James Bond film that I saw with my schoolfriend John at the cinema sometime in the mid-1970s. After then, I did not see another James Bond film until I saw Skyfall when it came out. So until I watched the film for the first time recently, I had never seen Roger Moore in the role. More of him later!
There are some similarities between the film and the book; but there are more areas in which the two completely diverge. In both the film and the book M sends Bond to New York to investigate Mr Big, although in the book he is suspected of selling gold coins and in the film he is dealing in heroin. In both the film and the book Bond is assisted by his old friend and CIA agent Felix Leiter, although in the book Leiter suffers considerable injuries en route and the film he largely gets off scot-free. The character of Solitaire plays a similar role in both film and book, but the voodoo element is played up a lot in the film. Because of altering the sequence of adaptations in the film series, Quarrel in the book becomes Quarrel Jr in the film, as we have already encountered the former (and seen him die) in Dr No. In the book Mr Big is a member of SMERSH, whereas in the film he’s the alter-ego of the dictator of the fictitious island of San Monique, Dr Kananga. The characters of Rosie Carver, Tee Hee, Adam, Whisper and Sheriff Pepper were all created for the film only. Samedi is an established figure in Voodoo, but also did not appear in the book.
For the most part, the book received very good reviews. The Times Literary Supplement observed that Fleming was “without doubt the most interesting recent recruit among thriller-writers” and that Live and Let Die “fully maintains the promise of … Casino Royale.” The Daily Telegraph felt that “the book is continually exciting, whether it takes us into the heart of Harlem or describes an underwater swim in shark-infested waters; and it is more entertaining because Mr Fleming does not take it all too seriously himself”. The Times thought that “this is an ingenious affair, full of recondite knowledge and horrific spills and thrills—of slightly sadistic excitements also—though without the simple and bold design of its predecessor”. However, reviews for the film weren’t always quite so positive. The reviewer for Time Magazine described the film as “the most vulgar addition to a series that has long since outlived its brief historical moment — if not, alas, its profitability.” He also criticized the action sequences as excessive, but noted that “aside an all right speedboat spectacular over land and water, the film is both perfunctory and predictable—leaving the mind free to wander into the question of its overall taste. Or lack of it.” Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times stated that Moore “has the superficial attributes for the job: The urbanity, the quizzically raised eyebrow, the calm under fire and in bed”. However, he felt that Moore wasn’t satisfactory in living up to the legacy left by Sean Connery in the preceding films. He rated the villains “a little banal”, adding that the film “doesn’t have a Bond villain worthy of the Goldfingers, Dr. Nos and Oddjobs of the past”.
As usual, the opening credits begin, with Maurice Binder’s iconic glimpse of Bond walking across the screen whilst being captured by the barrel of a gun, only for him to turn around, see us, and shoot; and then for the blood to start filling up the screen. Where we’re used to seeing Sean Connery, Bond is now noticeably Roger Moore, a slightly more elegant and poised presence than Connery, a characterisation that continues throughout the film.
We’re taken to the UN building in New York, where the delegates are listening intently, if languidly, to a dull speech from the Hungarian delegate. However, an interloper replaces the feed from the translator to the British delegate with some kind of electric charge and kills him stone dead. Then we move to a New Orleans jazz funeral march, another British spy gets killed – knifed whilst watching the march, and then we move to the fictitious island of San Monique, where a Voodoo snake ceremony is taking place. As a consequence, a third British agent is fanged to death. Three deaths so early!
And now the credits really start with Paul McCartney and Wings’ performance of Live and Let Die, an iconic track that’s still much loved all these years on. Binder’s title sequence calls for a view after view of fire and fireworks, plus some very cheesy use of an oversized optic fibre lamp, which after a short while becomes slightly less than interesting. Luckily, there are a few shots of barely hidden bosoms to perk the credits up. But I would suggest this is possibly the least creative title sequence in the series so far.
And the locations? As already described, we start off in New York – from then, the action takes place in New Orleans and Louisiana, and the fictitious island of San Monique; scenes there were filmed in Jamaica. Whilst in New York, the producers were reportedly required to pay protection money to a local Harlem gang to ensure the crew’s safety. When the cash ran out, they were “encouraged” to leave.
Bond, James Bond. This was Roger Moore’s debut in the role – so how did he make out? Well, being Bond, he made out quite a lot. Aged 45 at the time of filming, Moore is very suave, very posh, very sophisticated; but to me, his performance felt quite forced. Guy Hamilton gave him the affectation of the cigar, which makes him look even more lascivious and creepy than he already behaves. His first words are not simply “Bond, James Bond”, which is rather a shame, considering in The Saint, he was “Templar, Simon Templar”. In fact, his first words are those of disappointment at an unnecessarily early visit from M – “not married by any chance, are you?” And when he does eventually formally reveal his identity to us, saying the familiar line “My name’s Bond, James Bond”, it’s not until we’re 23 minutes into the film, when he introduces himself to Solitaire for the first time. Sometimes Roger Moore’s trademark underacting doesn’t work for me. I think Bond should be a bit more animated!
Boo-boos. Here are some, I am sure there are more. When making the coffee for M, Bond puts the milk in the coffee and then puts the steam into the coffee, demonstrating that neither he nor anyone involved in the scene had the faintest idea how to use the machine; added to which, the coffee grinder is alternately empty/full between shots. When Bond gives Mrs. Bell her “flying” lesson, the wings are torn off the plane. Yet when he asks her “Same time tomorrow?”, the reaction shot of Mrs. Bell shows an intact left wing – it’s the same ‘reaction’ shot as when he climbed into the plane. There are two scenes of funeral marches in New Orleans; one at the very beginning, and one in the middle of the film. They were both obviously shot at the same time: the sun and shadows are the same, the marchers and dancers are wearing the exact same clothes, and the extras hanging around a doorway across the street are identical. The whole crew and spectators are reflected in the cab’s window when Bond leaves the Voodoo shop.
The Bond Girl. As usual, the producers and scriptwriter bowl us a couple of curved balls early on in the film to fool us as to who The Bond Girl is in this adventure. First candidate is Miss Caruso, the Italian agent with whom Bond is sharing intimate moments when M comes awkwardly to call. She is played by Madeline Smith, originally a model and then a starlet in grisly Hammer horror films, before becoming one of those bit-part actresses seen in numerous light entertainment and comedy roles on TV and in films. She was recommended for the role by Roger Moore himself, who had worked with her in an episode of his TV series The Persuaders. Her career wound down in the 1980s when she had a daughter, but she’s still going strong to this day.
Next candidate for Bond Girl is the apparently ditzy and careless Rosie Carver, played by Gloria Hendry. Rosie is an inexpert CIA agent who adds some nice touches of comedy to the film with her clumsy gadget-handling and useless spy skills. However, as Bond quickly comes to realise, this is all a bluff and she’s double-crossing the CIA by working for Kananga. Her employer realises she can’t be trusted and has her killed. Rosie and Bond’s affair is a brief, double-crossing fling which ends the hard way. Gloria Hendry was originally a Playboy Bunny but then gained a couple of acting jobs and her appearance in Live and Let Die was significant as being the first African American woman to become romantically linked with James Bond! She’s had a varied career in movies since then, and has also written an autobiography. When the film was shown in South Africa her sex scenes with Bond were removed because of the Apartheid laws.
However, the Bond Girl in this film is undoubtedly Solitaire, played by Jane Seymour. Solitaire is used by Kananga for her tarot, psychic and occult skills and is icy at first but soon warms up after Bond breaks down her resistance (so to speak). As a result, she loses those skills and is of no use to Kananga, and he orders his voodoo henchmen to assassinate her – but Bond has other ideas. Jane Seymour, who was not the first choice for the role – that was Diana Ross, has had a long and highly successful movie career from her first appearance in 1969’s Oh What a Lovely War right to the present day. She has earned an Emmy Award, two Golden Globe Awards and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, not to mention her OBE in 2000.
What Bond Girls Are Like. Apart from the Japanese heritage that sets You Only Live Twice’s Kissy apart from the rest of the Girls, our currently agreed list of attributes common to the Bond Girls is: sexy, exotic, unpredictable, as equally likely to attack Bond as to support him, strong and self-reliant up to a point, sometimes tragic, professional, scary, vengeful, bossy – but with a vulnerable side. How well does Solitaire conform to the role? Well, she’s not that typical. She works for the other side, and her past has been pure until she meets Bond – and not a lot of his conquests can boast that.
The Villain. Meet Kananga – or Mr Big, as he is the same person; when he is acting as Mr Big he wears a facial prosthetic which gets removed to quite spooky effect. In many respects, Kananga’s a typical Bond villain – outwardly sophisticated and genteel, concealing a ruthlessness and cruelty to take your breath away. He was given the name Kananga – he’s only Mr Big in the book – by Tom Mankiewicz in honour of Ross Kananga, the charismatic owner of the crocodile farm used to shoot the scene where Bond leaps over the backs of several crocs to escape. Kananga suffers the highly improbable and deliciously disgusting fate of swallowing a compressed-gas pellet used in shark guns, causing his body to inflate up in the air and explode into tiny bits. It couldn’t have happened to a nicer person. Kananga was played by Yaphet Kotto, who had a long and successful movie career, including playing President Idi Amin in the film Raid on Entebbe. Despite evidence to the contrary, Kotto has claimed descendance from the Crown Prince of Cameroon and Queen Victoria – a fact dismissed by Buckingham Palace. He was apparently quite unhappy with Tom Mankiewicz’s cartoon-style blaxploitative script; he summed his feelings up as “The entire experience was not as rewarding as I wanted it to be”.
Other memorable characters? In addition to those already mentioned, we welcome back CIA agent and Bond ally Felix Leiter for the fifth time, on this occasion played by David Hedison, another actor recommended to the role by Roger Moore – they were old friends. Hedison enjoyed some charismatic roles, including the title character in the original version of The Fly, and Captain Lee Crane in the TV series Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. Although Leiter isn’t given that much to do in this film, his on-screen chemistry with Moore worked very well – and he would return to the role many years later in Licence to Kill.
There’s a good performance from Roy Stewart as Quarrel Jr, the local agent who is always on hand to lend help with a boat. Stewart had a fascinating career, not only as an actor and stuntman, but also as the owner of a gym in Kensington (where the late Dave Prowse trained as a weightlifter) and the owner of a Caribbean restaurant, The Globe, that ran from the 1960s until his death in 2008 – and in fact, the restaurant continues to this day. Apparently, it’s where Jimi Hendrix spent his last evening alive.
Every good Bond villain has to have a chief henchman, and in Live and Let Die it’s Tee Hee Johnson, played by Julius Harris. Tee Hee is an elegant and smiling man – but definitely not to be trusted, with a hook for a hand like a Fleming version of a Peter Pan’s nemesis. It’s a great performance, with Mr Harris perfectly cast as this apparently upright, jovial chap but with a heart of complete stone. Julius Harris appeared in many notable TV programmes and films, including The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3, Super Fly, even Cagney and Lacey and Murder She Wrote. He died in 2004 at the age of 81.
Perhaps the most notable character is that of Sheriff J. W. Pepper, a creation of Mankiewicz, brought in to provide some light relief. This pompous, loutish cop would return in The Man with the Golden Gun. He was played by Clifton James, a man with a career in movies that lasted a full fifty years, and who died in 2017 at the age of 96. It’s an arresting (no pun intended) performance that certainly breaks up the intensity of the speedboat chases. However, personally, I found the character incredibly tedious!
As usual, Bernard Lee and Lois Maxwell reprise their roles as M and Moneypenny, both just for the one scene. Q, usually played by Desmond Llewellyn, is absent from this film due to his commitments to the TV series Follyfoot, although the writers of that show left him out of three episodes of that series to give him time to play Q as well. When Q was written out of this movie, because the producers wanted to give less emphasis to the gadgets, apparently Llewellyn was furious. Fans demanded Llewelyn’s return, and he appeared in eleven more Bond movies from 1974 to 1999.
And what about the music? As always, the film starts with the main James Bond Theme, in a light, crisp guitar and string arrangement, written by Monty Norman; and then, once the opening credits start to roll, we’re straight into Paul McCartney and Wings’ Live and Let Die. A hit for the band, reaching No 9 in the UK charts but No 2 in the US Billboard Hot 100, plus No 2 in Canada and Norway, and 5 in Australia, it didn’t appear on a Wings album, which is odd as it would have fitted perfectly, stylistically, in Band on the Run. It was also successfully covered by Guns ‘n’ Roses. After that, there’s no John Barry, but George Martin, including Martin’s arrangement of both the Norman theme and the McCartney theme, primarily that chaotic and exciting Middle-8 sequence. It was the first time that McCartney and Martin had worked together since the Beatles’ Abbey Road. Most of the music was performed by an orchestra under George Martin’s directorship; two notable exceptions are B J Arnau’s soul version of the title track and the New Orleans Olympia Brass Band under the leadership of Harold “Duke” Dejan, who play the funeral march (twice) where spies get knifed. The actor playing the baby-faced killer was actually band trumpeter Alvin Alcorn.
Car chases. Not much in the way of car chases as such; there’s a sequence with James Bond leaving the airport in New York to meet up with Leiter, but with his driver having been killed without Bond realising; cue some hair-raising stunt collisions. Another car chase follows, where Bond in a taxi is followed by one of Kananga’s henchmen. Apart from those, there’s a brief helicopter chase, where Bond and Solitaire try to hide from the pilot, a scene where three cops chase Bond driving a bus (which gets decapitated as it goes under a bridge), the plane that Mrs Bell has her flying lesson in (chased by henchmen), and the extensive speedboat chase, which crosses roads, bridges, wedding receptions, garden parties and much more.
Cocktails and Casinos. As if to make a clean break with the Connery style-Bond, there are no casinos in this film, and cocktails are kept to the minimum. Rather than have a cocktail shaken not stirred, Bond creates that noisy and arduous Cappuccino in the opening scenes. Otherwise, Moore’s Bond drinks Bourbon with no ice – although Leiter changes his order at the club to two Sazeracs.
Gadgets. With Q absent, there aren’t as many gadgets this time round; however, those that did make it into the movie are pretty impressive. Bond’s magnetic watch starts by grabbing M’s coffee spoon from his saucer, remotely unzips Miss Caruso’s dress, but also turns into a circular saw and thus ends up both saving his life and helping end that of Kananga. There’s a hairbrush that doubles up as a cassette recorder (how charming), together with a device for locating bugs (the recording, listening-in type, rather than creepy crawlies). Rather quaintly, the hairbrush also sends and picks up morse code, which seems rather retro. Bond also has a shaving foam spray can that doubles up as a flame thrower – alas poor intrusive snake who lets himself into Bond’s bathroom. And Strutter’s car has a microphone in the lighter. The enemy also have some good gadgets; for example, the lethal dart thrower that is sent from Whisper’s wing mirror, and a ghastly recorder with a microphone attached. The actor makes an awful noise with it, even worse than a child playing it.
In Memoriam. In a running count of death counts in Bond movies, Dr No had the lightest number of fatalities at around 11; Thunderball is looking pretty heavy at around 50 people; but Diamonds are Forever is lethal at around 70. How does Live and Let Die compare? Let’s briefly look back at those who gave their lives so that Bond can rescue Solitaire from the wrath of the voodoo:
First UN agent, electrocuted through his earphone
Second UN agent, knifed by a passer-by
Third UN agent, bitten by an asp
Charlie the driver, harpooned in the head by a miniature dart aimed through the window by the henchman Whisper, driving an overtaking car
2 henchmen in the Harlem wasteland (although maybe not, it didn’t take much to kill them, just a kick or two)
Henchman kicked over by Bond dangling from hang glider
Strutter, knifed on a New Orleans street corner just like death #2)
Billy Bob, thwacked on the back of the head by Adam (maybe?)
Adam, doused in petrol by Bond and flambéd in the speedboat
Dambala and another man in voodoo scene
3rd man in snake coffin – Samedi, or is he?
Whisper – confined into a torpedo
Kananga blown to smithereens (internally)
Tee Hee, disarmed and ejected through the train window
Approximately 15? Maybe that’s not too many after all.
Humour to offset the death count. In previous films, Bond’s classic asides are normally delivered whenever someone dies. Live and Let Die continues the tradition of applying Bond’s wry sense of humour to all sorts of occasions. Is it me, or in this film he is particularly cheesy?
It all starts in his first scene, when he’s caught in flagrante delicto with the Italian spy Miss Caruso. When he uses the magnetic watch to unzip her dress and she admires his magic touch, he replies, “sheer magnetism, darling.”
When Felix Leiter listens into the conversation between Bond and the CIA agent Strutter, courtesy of a microphone in the cigarette lighter, Bond comments, “A genuine Felix Lighter – illuminating!”
When Rosie says she’s going to be of no use to Bond, he replies, “oh well I’m sure we can soon lick you into shape.”
Solitaire suggests a quickie before they go and capture Kananga. “Is there time before we leave for Lesson Number 3?” “Absolutely” replies Bond. “There’s no sense in going off half-cocked.”
When Leiter queries why Bond decides against the table by the wall at the New Orleans club, he replies “I once had a nasty turn in a booth”.
When Bond and Solitaire have been roped together in Kananga’s lair, Leiter tells the worrying Quarrel, “relax, he must have got tied up somewhere”.
And when Kananga cuts Bond’s arm to release blood to alert the sharks, 007 quips “perhaps we could try something in a simpler vein.”
After Kananga has been exploded into tiny bits: “he always did have an inflated opinion of himself.”
And as Bond tosses Tee Hee’s arm out of the window, after he’s been flung from the train: “Just being disarming, darling.”
Any less frothy elements? So once again it’s time to consider if there are any outstanding themes or elements that don’t sit well with today’s audience. In this film, latent (and not so latent) sexism tends to give way to racism, with the blaxploitation theme. It’s said that the racial overtones in this book make it Fleming’s most difficult novel to accept nowadays (I’ve not read it myself); and the creative team were very concerned about this being the first Bond film where all the villains are black. The driver of the taxi (who’s obviously in the employ of Mr Big) taking him into Harlem tells Bond that for a big tip he’d take them to a Ku Klux Klan hideout – that doesn’t sit very comfortably. One of the other guys radios in: “you’ve got a Honky on your tail”; and “you can’t miss him, it’s like following a cue ball”. It’s not the only use of the H word, and that also doesn’t sit very comfortably! Then Strutter refers to all the tarot cards as “spades” – with all its racist overtones.
Rosie Carver is another problematic character; the CIA agent who appears to be totally useless, and screams at the sight of the dead snake and the “warning” feather hat on the bed, feigns confidence but basically swoons into his arms at the merest suggestion of how’s-your-father. When Bond draws a gun on her as her duplicitousness is revealed, she says “you couldn’t, you wouldn’t, not after what we’ve just done”, and his response is “I certainly wouldn’t have killed you before”. To be fair, it’s probably no more or less sexist than his interaction with any other woman in any other Bond film.
Bizarre other stuff that occurred to me and a few observations.
Owner of the crocodile farm Ross Kananga was paid $60,000 to do the “jumping-on-the-back-of-the-crocs” stunt. Sadly, he died at the age of 32 from a cardiac arrest, two years after being attacked by his pet leopard, Satan.
Denis Edwards, who played the third British agent (Baines) in the opening sequence, was terrified of snakes and wasn’t aware that he would be confronted by one, face-to-fang. He passed out. All that and he didn’t even get a credit.
Whilst the team were filming in the apparently disused tenement blocks of Harlem, associate art director Peter Lamont wanted to include some of the trailing wires that were hanging loose from some of the buildings. To make it more obvious in shot, he arranged for the wires to be cut so that they hung in the right place for the shot. Later that day, the telephone engineers arrived as they had had several reports that the phone lines were down – red faces from the art design team!
Geoffrey Holder, who played Baron Samedi, was primarily a dancer and choreographer – in the 1950s he was a principal dancer with the Metropolitan Opera Ballet in New York. He had also once met Ian Fleming at his home Goldeneye in Jamaica. He was also terrified of snakes. One wonders how cruel the casting team really were! He appears in the very final scene at the front of the train, because originally the producers had thought of bringing him back for the next film.
The “little musical extravaganza” that entertains the guests at Bond’s hotel has overtones of rather a grotesque sex show, heavy on the Voodoo. Maybe tastes have changed since 1973.
The amusing flying lesson with the terrifying and terrified Mrs Bell. Not much to say about it, but it has to be mentioned!
Bond refers to Tee Hee as “Butterhook” when the actor Julius Harris fumbled a scene where he had to remove Bond’s watch with his hook; it was an off-the-cuff quip, but it stayed in the script, and subsequently became Moore’s nickname for Harris.
In the scene where Jane Seymour is about to be nibbled to death by a snake, Roger Moore crouches in the distance, watching, and his face conveys all the horror of being slightly late for tea. Talk about underacting!
The film holds the record for the most viewed broadcast film on television in the United Kingdom by attracting 23.5 million viewers when premiered on ITV on 20 January 1980.
Awards: Paul and Linda McCartney were nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song – they missed out to Marvin Hamlisch’s title track for The Way We Were. They were also nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Song Written for a Motion Picture, where they lost out to Neil Diamond and Jonathan Livingston Seagull. Guy Hamilton did, however, win the Evening Standard award for Best Film.
To sum up: I was a little disappointed in this movie. I thought it was rather slow, rather coarse, lacking in finesse, and a little too easy. Solitaire is a rather ineffective and drippy Bond Girl, and Kananga lacks the brutal streak of a Blofeld. But mainly, I wasn’t over impressed with Roger Moore in the role and could see how either Connery or Lazenby would have nailed it much better. That said, having watched it three times over the course of writing this blog, the film and Moore have both started to appeal a little more, so I’m going to upgrade it by one sparkle. Nevertheless, I’m hoping for an improvement in his next offering, which was The Man with the Golden Gun. Fingers crossed!
My rating: 3 Sparkles
All photos from the film of course belong to their various copyright holders.
In which James Bond is charged with infiltrating a diamond smuggling operation, which leads him to meet stylish criminal Tiffany Case – but she is only a small cog in a giant wheel turned by that Master of Malice, Blofeld (who hasn’t been killed in the opening scenes, as we all suspected.) Blofeld wants the diamonds to pay for the creation of a laser satellite that he will use to obliterate the weapons held by the superpowers and therefore in a position of supreme global power. Will James Bond let him get away with that? Of course not!
After George Lazenby refused to honour his contract to play James Bond again, the script that Richard Maibaum had almost finished for the next film had to be rewritten. For one thing, Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman weren’t particularly impressed with it, and secondly, it had been planned as a revenge film, with Bond avenging the death of his beloved Tracy; with a change of cast, that just wouldn’t have worked. As luck would have it, Broccoli had a dream where his friend Howard Hughes was replaced by an impostor; and that’s how the character of Willard Whyte was born. The producers recruited American screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz to amend Maibaum’s original script, which resulted in the two writers sharing the writing credits.
The producers also had to look further afield to find their new 007. After toying with the ideas of John Gavin (of Spartacus, Psycho and Thoroughly Modern Millie fame), Burt Reynolds, Adam West (the original Batman) and Michael (Dumbledore) Gambon, they realised they needed the box-office guarantee of enticing Sean Connery back to the role. Connery demanded $1.25 million, using the money to establish his Scottish International Education Trust. This was a huge increase on Lazenby’s $100,000 and even Connery’s previous fee of $800,000.
Although Production Designer Ken Adam had been replaced for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – primarily for reasons of finance – he was welcomed back for Diamonds are Forever. Nevertheless, special effects were toned down as a result of Connery’s increased salary. Ted Moore returned as Cinematographer for the first time since Thunderball, with Bert Bates and John Holmes as Editors. For the big job, Guy Hamilton was recruited as Director for what would be his second of four Bond films, and of course, the music was once again in the capable hands of John Barry.
Diamonds are Forever was published in 1956 and was the fourth book in Ian Fleming’s series of James Bond novels. It was inspired by a Sunday Times account of diamond smuggling in Sierra Leone. Using contacts, he met Sir Percy Sillitoe, the ex-head of MI5, who was working in security for De Beers, the famous diamond-trading company. The material he garnered not only provided the basis for Diamonds are Forever but also for a non-fiction book, The Diamond Smugglers, that he published the following year. Fleming wrote Diamonds are Forever at his Goldeneye estate in Jamaica, taking the title from an advertisement in Vogue Magazine, “A Diamond is Forever.”
I’m fairly sure that I saw this film with my schoolfriend John in a double bill with From Russia with Love at the Odeon in Aylesbury sometime in the mid-1970s. Chronologically, this was the last (i.e. the most recent) James Bond film that I saw either in the cinema or on TV until Skyfall – a gap of ignorance that made me want to do this James Bond Challenge in the first place.
Whilst the book and the film share many similar themes and plotlines, they also diverge in many areas. Like the film, the book deals with a diamond smuggler by name of Peter Franks, whom Bond impersonates to infiltrate the smuggling gang. He meets Tiffany Case, who is part of the smuggling chain; she leads Bond/Franks to the smugglers HQ; Shady Tree, another smuggler, also appears in both book and film. However, in the book, the mastermind behind the smuggling gang is the Spangled Mob, run by the ruthless brothers Jack and Seraffimo Spang. In the film, the Spangs have been replaced by Blofeld; whether he’s working independently of SPECTRE or not is uncertain. In the book, the Spangs’ henchmen Mr Wint and Mr Kidd carry out – or attempt to carry out – a few personal atrocities, whereas in the film, they perform most of the gangland murders even though they are never directly associated with Blofeld.
The book received largely – though not exclusively – good reviews. The Times Literary Supplement said it was Fleming’s “weakest book, a heavily padded story about diamond smuggling”, and the Sunday Times described it as: “about the nicest piece of book-making in this type of literature which I have seen for a long time”. The New York Times praised “Mr. Fleming’s handling of American and Americans”, although he felt that “the narrative is loose-jointed and weakly resolved”. The film also scored mixed reviews, with virtually all commentators approving the exciting car chase scenes, but with criticism of the performances of Jill St John (“one of the least effective Bond girls – beautiful, but shrill and helpless” according to Filmcritic.com) and Putter Smith and Bruce Glover (“looking and acting like a couple of pseudo-country bumpkins, [they] seem to have wandered by accident from the adjoining sound stage into the filming of this movie” according to Steve Rhodes.) Wint and Kidd, and Bambi and Thumper have been called the worst and second worst Bond villains of all time. The Guardian, however, described it as “oddly brilliant, the best of the bunch: the perfect bleary Bond film for an imperfect bleary western world”.
It’ll come as no surprise that the opening credits begin, with Maurice Binder’s iconic glimpse of Bond walking across the screen whilst being captured by the barrel of a gun, only for him to turn around, see us, and shoot; and then for the blood to start filling up the screen. Last time it was George Lazenby of course, and this time it’s back to Sean Connery – and the background white colour has now become blue. Fortunately, there’s a new arrangement for the James Bond Theme, using an electric guitar, and not that disappointingly easy listening version used in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
We start off with something of a world tour. We begin in Japan, where Bond threatens an unnamed henchman with some proper violence unless he tells him where Blofeld is – answer, Cairo; then we visit a casino in Cairo, where the same question is asked of a befezzed gambler – answer, ask Marie. For those first two scenes, you don’t see Bond’s face – so is it Connery or Lazenby? Then Connery appears, meeting a pretty girl (presumably Marie) on a beach somewhere else and makes to strangle her with her bra unless she spills the beans on Blofeld. Finally, Bond tracks down Blofeld in a laboratory where they are creating a second version of the evil mastermind. There’s a fight and a struggle and Blofeld gets swallowed up in a mudpool and left to drown. Or does he……?
Cut to Blofeld’s cat, looking most peeved at the apparent death of his master. Here’s an interesting fact you won’t find anywhere else. The lady who owned that cat – and indeed she was a worldwide cat expert who judged on major cat shows throughout the world over several decades – was admitted to the same dementia care home as my mother. You heard it here first.
Anyway, back to the film. And it’s the credits, and Shirley Bassey’s performance of Diamonds are Forever, wisely using the title of the film and book as the title of the film, something that wasn’t an option with OHMSS. Like Thunderball, the lyrics to Diamonds are Forever were written by Don Black. Binder’s title sequence calls for a view after view of dripping diamonds, which after a short while becomes slightly less than interesting. Luckily, there are a few shots of barely hidden bosoms to perk the credits up. But I would suggest this is possibly the least creative title sequence in the series so far.
And the locations? The first location of any interest is Amsterdam – with plenty of typical tourist views which reminded me of the opening sequences of Van der Valk. The scene then shifts to Nevada, and Las Vegas, primarily designed to appeal to the American audience. Many of the Las Vegas scenes take place in Circus Circus, a larger than life setting for a large than life character and story. There are also a few glimpses of Dover; Blofeld’s oil rig home was off the coast of California, and the attractive lift in which Bond and Franks fight as filmed at 107 Fleet Street, London, now a suite of serviced offices. And the garden scene where Bond gives Tiffany a thwack across the chops was filmed in the Palm Springs house belonging to the late Kirk Douglas.
Bond, James Bond. Once again, those are Bond’s first words in this film (well, almost: “My name is Bond, James Bond”) – spoken in the credits sequence. If it seems like James Bond looks considerably more mature in this film than the previous time we saw Connery in the role, remember it has been four years since You Only Live Twice. In that period Sean Connery had appeared in several other movies and had aged from 37 to 41 and I think it shows. Mind you, he did say he hardly got to sleep when they were filming in Las Vegas – he played golf every day, saw all the shows every evening and did all the filming during the wee small hours of the morning. That would be enough to tax the strength of Superman.
Boo-boos. One of the best boo-boos comes in one of the film’s most celebrated scenes – when the Ford Mustang rolls through the alleyway on two wheels. Unfortunately for continuity, the two wheels that it enters the alleyway on are not the same two wheels it’s using on its exit! Also, all the people standing outside the Golden Nugget Saloon whilst the car chase is proceeding are clearly just standing there and watching what’s going on rather than going about their daily lives – and a minute or two later, there’s hardly anyone on the streets. When Tiffany comes out of her flat to observe the fight between Bond and Franks, she comes a couple of feet forward to see what’s going on but in the next shot she’s back in the doorframe – without enough time to have got back there. When Bond approaches Tiffany in the Whyte House hotel room apparently naked, the camera just manages to catch the top of his flesh coloured undies.
The Bond Girl. At one stage, I thought Plenty O’Toole would turn out to be the Bond Girl in this movie. But no, she just appears for a couple of short scenes, where she shows herself to be completely eaten up by a lust for money which soon leads to her death. Maybe the fact that, during the filming, Sean Connery and Lana Wood, who plays Plenty, were having a relationship, adds to their brief, but distinct, on camera chemistry. Lana Wood, the sister of Natalie Wood, has been married six times, the longest being to Husband Number Five which lasted four years. She was already an established actress at the time of filming, with a long run in TV’s Peyton Place under her belt. TV and film work dried up in the mid-1980s, with just a few roles since then. Much of her life has been devoted to clearing up the circumstances surrounding her sister’s death.
But the title of Bond Girl for this film definitely goes to Tiffany Case, played by Jill St John, the first American to take this title. Tiffany is possibly the most actively criminal of the Bond Girls so far, but that doesn’t seem to stop either of them from getting it on. She’s elegant, reckless, daring; but also, when it comes to replacing the lethal cassette tape that makes or breaks Blofeld’s wicked schemes, a bit ham-fisted and stupid. Possibly because she was also dating Sean Connery, and also because later she married Robert Wagner, Natalie Wood’s widower, she has carried out a longstanding public feud with her co-Bond Girl, Lana Wood. Whilst Jill St John had a successful Hollywood career, she largely gave it all up in 1972 to concentrate on her homelife.
What Bond Girls Are Like. Apart from the Japanese heritage that sets You Only Live Twice’s Kissy apart from the rest of the Girls, our currently agreed list of attributes common to the Bond Girls is: sexy, exotic, unpredictable, as equally likely to attack Bond as to support him, strong and self-reliant up to a point, sometimes tragic, professional, scary, vengeful and bossy. How well does Tiffany conform to the role? Fairly well on the whole, although perhaps she’s a little more human than most, as she is prone to getting things wrong from time to time, and seems genuinely alarmed when Bond and Franks fight in the lift.
The Villain. Once again Blofeld is back, this time seemingly without the backing of SPECTRE, but no less lethal as a result. In fact, there are several Blofelds as part of the plot was to create lookalike Blofelds to make it even more difficult to assassinate the real one – and at least two of the false Blofelds die in this film. He’s played by Charles Gray, who, interestingly, had played Dikko Henderson in You Only Live Twice – changing sides from the goodies to the baddies. Gray had enjoyed a long and successful film career from the late 1950s up to his death in 2000. Writer Tom Mankiewicz described his performance as a much more “fussy” Blofeld than the other actors to perform the role – and it’s a very interesting characterisation. Blofeld actually only appears in three of the Fleming novels – Thunderball, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and You Only Live Twice; and, apart from in the pre-credits for For Your Eyes Only, this would be his last appearance in a James Bond movie.
Other memorable characters? By far the most intriguing among the rest of the cast is the weird and wilful double act of Mr Wint and Mr Kidd, played by Bruce Glover and Putter Smith. Hinting at a homosexual relationship between the two, they’re always together as each other’s right-hand man, so to speak. If someone needs bumping off, or if something needs stealing, they’re the men for the job, One assumes that they’re working for Blofeld, but it’s never made absolutely clear; maybe that’s because, as far as the plot is concerned, they are remnants of the Spangled Mob plotline, which was removed for the purposes of the film. As a result, their position in the crime family tree of this film is always undefined. Whilst some critics (see earlier) didn’t rate their performances, personally I find them very unsettlingly creepy. Mankiewicz described them as “vicious, but funny vicious”.
Bruce Glover also had a very long and successful career as a movie actor over five decades; now aged 87, he has carried on working right up to the last few years. Putter Smith was better known as a jazz musician; in fact, he was playing with Thelonious Monk at a club in Los Angeles when he was spotted by Guy Hamilton and approached to play the role. He’s worked with all the Greats; and in the pop world, he’s been a session musician with The Beach Boys, The Righteous Brothers and Sonny and Cher. He’s still going strong at the age of 79. There is a story that Sean Connery believed both actors were gay, as per their roles, and they did nothing to disabuse him of this assumption, until one day Connery met Glover on a flight and observed Glover chatting up all the air hostesses – that’s when he realised he’d been had.
Friendly CIA Agent Felix Leiter makes a return to the world of Bond, this time acted by Norman Burton, who had a long film career working from the 50s to the 90s. As the name suggests, this version of Leiter feels a little lighter than other incarnations, providing a few humorous moments (“I’ve got 30 agents down there, a mouse with sneakers couldn’t get through”) whilst supporting Bond’s work. Norman Burton died in 2003.
Other interesting characters include the tetchy Dr Metz, a top scientist working for Blofeld, played by Joseph Furst, an Austrian who emigrated to Australia in the 1970s and ended up acting in soap operas there; Morton Slumber, the slimy undertaker who’s part of the smuggling gang, played by David Bauer, an American who emigrated to Britain because of McCarthyism and who died rather young in 1973; and Shady Tree, the stand-up comedian working in Whyte’s Las Vegas club who’s also part of the smuggling gang, played by Leonard Barr, who was indeed a stand-up comic as well as an actor and who was Dean Martin’s uncle. Not mentioned in the credits is a young David Healy, as the rocket launch director, whose accomplishments ranged from voicing Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons, through comedy appearances with Dick Emery and Kenny Everett, to a show-stopping performance as Nicely Nicely Johnson in the National Theatre’s award-winning 1980s revival of Guys and Dolls. And, of course, there’s Bambi and Thumper, two Bond-girl wannabes who just end up trying to kill our hero. They were played by Lola Larson and Trina Parks. Whilst Lola Larson hasn’t done much acting since, Trina Parks, primarily a dancer, has been in a number of movies, and holds the accolade of being the first African-American female in a Bond film.
As usual, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell and Desmond Llewelyn reprise their roles as M, Moneypenny and Q. Moneypenny only appears in one, brief, scene at Dover Customs; apparently Lois Maxwell had dyed her hair for another role, hence she wears a cap to disguise it. Initially she wasn’t written into the film at all, as she was asking for more money and the producers weren’t keen – but in the end that was resolved. M gives Bond his task for this film – but then, unusually, we never go back to him. Normally, at some point in a Bond film, 007 would report back to him, or we would hear that M is either satisfied or dissatisfied with Bond’s performance – but not this time. Instead, we meet Q a few times, out in the field, including a very funny scene where he empties all the one-arm bandits in the casino due to an amazing gadget. What a clever chap he is.
And what about the music? As always, the film starts with the main James Bond Theme, in a nice, crisp guitar arrangement, written by Monty Norman; after that, it’s mainly all John Barry, apart from a brass version of the Norman theme when the Hovercraft leaves Dover, and when we see Bond and Tiffany relaxing on the liner at the end, when the Norman theme returns. In addition to the iconic performance by Shirley Bassey of the title track, there’s a luscious loungey arrangement of the tune when Bond first encounters Tiffany in her flat – entitled Diamonds are Forever (Source Instrumental) on the soundtrack album. There’s also a very cutesy arrangement of Monty Norman’s theme for the scene where Bond encounters Bambi and Thumper. All in all, it’s not a bad soundtrack, although you probably wouldn’t spend an evening unwinding to it.
Shirley Bassey’s recording of Diamonds are Forever reached 38 in the UK chart in 1972, although she was never really a singles recording artist. According to Wikipedia, so it must be true, John Barry told her to imagine that she was singing about a penis when she recorded the song. Make of that what you will.
Car chases. You have to wait a while before the film enters car chase mode, but once there it doesn’t let up until you’re thoroughly entertained. Basically there are two scenes – one, where a green security car, plus security officers on quad bikes, chase around what appears to be the surface of the moon – at the Tectonics research laboratory; and one where cops chase Bond and Tiffany around the centre of Las Vegas and the Mint Hotel parking lot – which includes the famous two-wheeled alleyway roll. The producers entered into an arrangement with Ford to use their cars as so many would get destroyed during the making of the film. Their only stipulation was that Sean Connery was to drive the iconic Ford Mustang that in the film belonged to Tiffany. The reason? It had just entered the market and there could be no greater advertising endorsement than that of James Bond!
Cocktails and Casinos. Part of the opening credits includes a quick casino scene in Cairo, where a man in a fez is attacked by Bond looking for Blofeld; then there are two more Las Vegas casino scenes, the first where Bond goes to see Shady Tree’s show, and one situated inside Circus Circus, where Tiffany goes hunting for diamonds. No cocktails are poured in this film; although Bond does appreciate the sherry with Sir Magnus based on an 1851 vintage. It’s a Chateau Mouton Rothschild that contributes to the death of Mr Kidd at the end of the movie.
Gadgets. Q’s on good form in this film. He’s already furnished Bond with a kind of mousetrap contraption that fits inside his jacket pocket and punishes anyone looking in there for something; and he’s provided Bond with a Franks’ fingerprints on a sticky piece of film that goes over his own fingerprints. He really does think of everything. Then there’s the gun that shoots cable – invaluable for scaling the outside of buildings, the speech gadget that makes Bond sound like Saxby (after all, Blofeld has a gadget – made by those nice people at Tectronics – that makes him sound like Whyte) and a cunning corkscrew. And, of course, Q’s favourite invention, an electromagnetic RPM controller – the widget that allows him to make a fortune on the fruit machines in the casino.
In Memoriam. Time for a quick countback. Dr No had a death count of approximately 11 as well as all those who go up in smoke in his lair at the end; From Russia with Love notched up at least 40 stiffs; Goldfinger came in at a more modest 23-ish, plus everyone who died at Fort Knox; Thunderball hit a peak of around 50 people; You Only Live Twice was going really well until a mass murder spree towards the end took about 40 lives, and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service took out about 20 people only, including the longest wait until someone dies. But what about Diamonds are Forever’s death count? Let’s briefly remember those who gave their lives so that Bond and Tiffany can enjoy the last days of their leisure cruise:
Henchman in the grass outside Blofeld’s claying laboratory (presumably killed by Bond so that he could gain entrance)
Clayed person in the vat
Henchman, killed by Bond throwing knives at him
Someone pretending to be Blofeld
Dentist, killed by a scorpion down the neck
Helicopter pilot given a bomb to take on board by Wint and Kidd
A guard (in absentia) killed by Peter Franks so that he could escape
Peter Franks, whopped over the head by a fire extinguisher so he toppled over a balustrade to his death (covered in fire extinguisher foam)
Plenty O’Toole, drowned in the swimming pool
Another person pretending to be Blofeld, shot by Bond when he identifies the “wrong pussy”.
An untold number of people at the missile area in North Dakota
An untold number of people on the submarine
Lots of Chinese people
2 of Blofeld’s henchmen
Four people in another helicopter
2 more of the henchmen
And the crew of another helicopter
Four on a bridge
Everyone on the platform
Blofeld (one presumes)
Wint and Kidd, flambéd, bombed and drowned.
That’s probably in the region of 70-100 people? That could be the highest toll in a Bond movie so far. Plenty of work for Mr Slumber’s funeral parlour if he’s looking for business.
Humour to offset the death count. In previous films, Bond’s classic asides are normally delivered whenever someone dies. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service started the trend towards funny lines in other circumstances too, and this continues in Diamonds are Forever. In fact, the funny lines in this film mainly involve sexual encounters. Here are some of his best bon mots:
To Marie, in the opening credits, where he whips off her bra: “there’s something I’d like you to get off your chest”.
To Leiter, explaining where the diamonds are stored in Franks’s body: “Alimentary, my dear Leiter”.
Tiffany, eyeing up the naked Bond: “there’s a lot more to you than I expected”.
Later when the naked Bond rolls over on top of the naked Tiffany, he quips, “relax, darling, I’m on top of the situation”. And when Tiffany assures Leiter that she is “co-operating”, Bond confirms, “I can vouch for that.”
When Bond kicks Blofeld’s cat and it leaps into the arms of its owner, Bond sees that as the definition of the correct Blofeld to kill. But no. “Right idea, Mr Bond”. “But wrong pussy”.
When Bond tucks the C90 cassette into Tiffany’s bikini panties: “Your problems are all behind you now”.
When Bond ties the bomb to the back of Mr Wint’s trousers: “He certainly left with his tail between his legs”.
Any less frothy elements? So once again it’s time to consider if there are any outstanding themes or elements that don’t sit well with today’s audience. And to be fair, there’s nothing like the usual amount of sexism. Perhaps that’s because Bond doesn’t take advantage of the female characters as much as in other films – and in many respects, they take advantage of him. It’s quite interesting to watch the battle of the sexes more evened up than usual.
Bizarre other stuff that occurred to me and a few observations.
Bond on the Moon? In 1971 the US (and indeed the world) was still rocket-crazy with Apollo missions happening left right and centre, so Bond driving a Moon Buggy very much tapped into the Zeitgeist. Those people who thought the moon landings were staged thought that the site where this was filmed was the site where the landings were faked. So you could say that the whole buggy scene is something of a satirical nod to that conspiracy theory.
How lovely to see a hovercraft in action again! In 1971 they were (literally) a hot ticket and a very popular method of travel from the UK to mainland Europe. Such a shame that they are no longer commercially used. Such a great invention. I wonder if they’ll ever come back. It would be great if we were to discover that they’re more environmentally friendly.
As in OHMSS, it’s hilarious to see the future of the world relying on a C90 cassette.
Apparently, Sammy Davis Jr filmed a cameo role in a casino but the scene was deleted. Shame!
The man who plays the mad scientist who coverts the girl into a gorilla was in fact the owner of Circus Circus – he told the producers they could use his venue provided he was in the movie!
Jimmy Dean, who played Willard Whyte, was a Country and Western singer who had a major international hit in 1961 with Big Bad John.
Awards: Sound engineers Gordon K. McCallum, John W. Mitchell and Alfred J. Overton were nominated for Best Sound at the Academy Awards – they lost to Fiddler on the Roof.
To sum up: A thoroughly enjoyable James Bond film, filled with interesting characters, a good solid story, some terrific car chases, a top theme title and lots of fun. What’s not to like? This would be the last time Sean Connery played Bond for Broccoli and Saltzman, and he would return only once more, in Never Say Never Again, but for a different production company. Diamonds are Forever was the last Bond movie I saw until Skyfall – so I’m looking forward to catching the next film, Live and Let Die, so I can finally discover what Roger Moore was like in the role!
My rating: 5 Sparkles
All photos from the film of course belong to their various copyright holders.
When I saw the trailer for this film a couple of weeks ago, my eyes turned away with horror. What on Earth were they doing with my beloved David Copperfield? It’s one of my all-time favourite books; and a TV dramatisation in the early 1970s was pivotal in my growing-up process. When the recently widowed Dowager Mrs Chrisparkle turned to the 12 year old me and asked if I’d mind if she ever remarried, my mind went to thoughts of Mr Murdstone (as I presumed all stepfathers are wicked like him) and I asked her please not to. As a consequence, she remained on her own for the rest of her life and I think never really forgave me for that. I was only 12 goddammit!!
I digress, as I so often do. But I felt like challenging myself into watching what was obviously not going to be a traditional, faithful re-telling of Dickens’ novel. How much of a purist would I be, when it comes to David Copperfield? Quite a lot, as it turns out. Armando Iannucci has picked up a copy of the book, ripped some of the pages out, sellotaped some of them back in the wrong order, drawn a few cartoons in the side margins, given it a good shake up and then made a film of it.
A deliberately quirky film at that. At first, I found I was really enjoying its freshness and unstuffiness. Then it occurred to me that I was actively hating it, with its comic-strip silliness, grotesque characterisations, omission of characters and storylines, and rather self-conscious cleverness. Then, towards the end, when I started to understand (I think) what the film was trying to do (I believe) it started to grow on me, and I ended up having a grudging admiration for it. That’s a pretty exhausting two hours for an audience member.
The film starts with Copperfield addressing an audience in a theatre; he’s clearly going to tell them his life story. The novel starts with the same words – the adult Copperfield introducing an account of his life and adventures to his readership. So, a few liberties taken there, but acceptable. However, when the adult Copperfield suddenly appears at the side of his new-born baby self, you know you’re going to have to widen your imaginations to take this all in. And sometimes it’s worth it, and sometimes it isn’t.
My sympathy with the film ran out with the development of the character of Mr Murdstone, played by Darren Boyd. As you’ll appreciate from my opening paragraph, I have a very firm understanding of what Murdstone is all about. He’s a cruel, ruthless, vindictive, utter swine of a man. However, whilst Darren Boyd’s Murdstone was comfortable with handing out the punishment and assuming control over the household – he was played like a pantomime villain. More Abanazar than a Bastard. Horrible? Yes. But a seriously evil, despicable specimen of toxic masculinity? Naaah. Or, Oh no he wasn’t, in pantomime terms. I couldn’t take the performance seriously because he didn’t.
I also wasn’t impressed (although I appreciate I am a lone voice here) with Tilda Swinton’s portrayal of Betsey Trotwood. Again, it was too cartoon-like; a grotesquerisation (I just invented that word) of a character who has her foibles but is essentially kind. You had to look very hard to find much in the way of kindness in Tilda Swinton’s performance. I sense the decision was made to accentuate the slightly unbalanced comedy of the character. But you don’t need Betsey Trotwood to be slightly unbalanced when you have Mr Dick by her side, who is unbalanced enough for both of them. By contrast, I thought Hugh Laurie’s Mr Dick was pretty much the best performance in the film, expressing his good-natured puzzlement at the way his brain worked, and his childish delight at the simple pleasures of life.
Similarly, Peter Capaldi’s Micawber was purely played for laughs; you didn’t get a sense of his and his wife’s kindness or generosity with what little they had, but just that he was a money-centric reprobate who was only interested in Copperfield for what they could get out of him. As for Ben Whishaw’s Uriah Heep, he simply changed from ‘umble servant to embezzling boss without any sense of how or why he got there.
There was no Tommy Traddles; no Dan Peggotty or Barkis, willin’ or otherwise; Rosa Dartle was concatenated into the character of Mrs Steerforth. Creakle and Tungay have been moved from Salem House school to running the wine bottle factory. In a Bowdlerised quest to eliminate the darker sides of the book, Dora doesn’t die – she just asks Copperfield to write her out of the book, her father doesn’t die from a heart attack in his carriage, and Ham doesn’t die in his rescue attempt at sea. There’s many a missed opportunity to dig just a little deeper into Dickens’ text – but that’s not the point of the film, quite the reverse.
The point of the film – as I see it – is Copperfield’s re-imagining and re-living his own experiences in a way that he wants to remember them, which isn’t necessarily how they actually happened. He doesn’t want to dwell on people’s deaths. He doesn’t want to wallow in the misery of the wine bottle factory. He doesn’t want to explore the motivations of people who don’t particularly interest him. On the other hand he does want to emphasise how lovely Agnes is (one of the better performances and characterisations in the film from Rosalind Eleazar), he does want to stress the heroism of Ham, he does want to reflect on his own friendship with Peggotty (presumably that’s why he’s not sharing her with Barkis). This makes Copperfield the essential egotist – and I can have some sympathy with that characterisation.
There are some nice moments; the Trotwood household trying to keep Mr Wickfield away from the drinks cabinet, Micawber’s creditors trying to steal his rug from underneath the door frame, Mrs Heep’s heavy cake. There are some delightful cameos from Anna Maxwell Martin as Mrs Strong, Rosaleen Linehan as the hideous but helpless Mrs Gummidge, and a superb performance from Jairaj Varsani as the young David Copperfield. The one scene where the device of having the adult Copperfield intruding on his younger days really worked was in that very moving moment where Adult David tells Young David not to worry – everything will be alright. Which of us hasn’t at some point imagined what we would say to our younger selves with the benefit of retrospect? And then of course there is the central performance by Dev Patel – engaging, humorous, decent (on the whole) – everything in fact that you’d expect from a performance by Dev Patel.
Definitely a challenge for the purist – but it’s good to be challenged. A re-imagining of David Copperfield for today’s busy, instant return on investment, generation. You can imagine the creative team’s vision for the film. “Cut 950 pages to the quick and give me the bare bones, and none of that slow-building, motivation-observing nonsense. No sorrow, no guilt, just give me donkeys. I want to laugh at Dickensian characters and I want it now.” Well, I think they achieved that.
Odd, perhaps, to start a review about a film by talking about another film, but do you remember Peter Weir’s Gallipoli? I saw it with my dear old university friend Jeff, now sadly no longer with us; with nothing to do on a Friday night, we’d been out for a few pints then, charged with bonhomie, decided to catch a movie – and we settled on Gallipoli. As the ghastly inevitability of the carnage of war grew stronger and stronger through the film, by the end we were stunned into a sad silence. Walking back to our student digs, all Jeff could say was “well that’s one way to ruin an evening.”
-Big Spoiler Alert –
1917 reminded me of Gallipoli because both films examined a strong bond between two soldiers, and, when one of them dies, you get a big wallop of teardrop in your eyes and wonder how mankind can do this to each other. Answer: if we’re still doing it today after millennia of war, why would we ever stop? The two films also share similar climaxes – Will Mel Gibson’s Frank Dunne get his message to the frontline in time to stop the final wave of troops going over the top (and thus save the life of his friend)? And will George Mackay’s Lance Corporal Schofield get his message to Colonel Mackenzie in time to prevent the 2nd Devons being wiped out in an equally pointless charge? You probably already know the outcome.
Sam Mendes’ 1917 is, on the face of it, a magnificently impressive film. Giving the appearance of being filmed in one shot – although, for practical purposes, you can actually see the joins, and it was probably done in four or five – its exciting, pacey sweep follows Schofield and his pal Blake as they risk everything in pursuit of getting a message from General Erinmore to Colonel Mackenzie on the other side of No Man’s Land. Technically, one can only marvel at the detailed rehearsal and choreography that must have preceded those long shots, the faultless delivery of every line by a large cast, the planned positioning of the camera equipment in amongst the men in the trenches, and even the expectation that a well-placed rat will do the right thing. The “one shot” look adds enormous suspense, urgency and a real sense on the part of the audience of actually being there. Truly an extraordinary achievement.
The story itself – apparently inspired by a tale that Sam Mendes’ grandfather told him – takes a back seat in comparison with the style and the realism. Two men are on a mission to deliver a message – will they make it? Apart from tidying up some loose ends with the brother of one of the men, that’s about it, although it does also makes some very clear points about the hierarchy of life in the trenches and how the class system dictated what kind of position you held in the army. However, the excitement and the suspense of the action mean you forgive any holes in the storyline.
You do have to suspend some disbelief from time to time; there’s a scene where Schofield is running around some ruins, being shot at by Germany’s least efficient sniper; he really ought to have got him with at least one of those bullets. That scene also takes on an air of games console – for a few minutes war has become a game rather than a horror. Look at this still, for example – it’s pure X-Box. The occasional use of powerfully surging music, that swells up to fill the cinema with heroic passion, means that at times you feel the film is glorifying war. Maybe that’s inevitable – it’s been years since I’ve seen a war film, so I’ve not much with which to compare it. For my own part, I much preferred the scenes inside the trenches, where you saw the everyday tedium of war mixed with fear and disgust. That’s where the film totally succeeds, in my opinion.
I’m not sure there’s meant to be any element of fun in this film for the audience, but I have to admit I enjoyed the star-spotting moments; a wealth of famous, top quality actors who were hired to deliver one line, or share the screen for about ten seconds. Starting with Colin Firth’s bluff Erinmore and ending with Benedict Cumberbatch’s arrogant Mackenzie, blink in the trenches and you’ll miss Jamie Parker, and Adrian Scarborough briefly lending Schofield a scrap of comfort. Richard McCabe never gets out of his jeep or even faces the camera as the grumpy Colonel Collins, Nabhaan Rizwan has two tiny scenes as a comradely Sepoy, and Bodyguard’s Richard Madden has almost five minutes at the end as Blake’s brother in a very smartly performed, emotional-though-stiff-upper-lip performance.
But the film completely revolves around the two central performances of Dean-Charles Chapman as the brave and ultra-keen Blake, and George Mackay as the more cynical but ultimately heroic Schofield. The two never put a foot wrong with two technically perfect performances that may well stay with you long past the final reel. It’s not a perfect film but I’d be very hard hearted not to give it anything other than five Sparkles.
Regular readers (bless you!) of my blog will know that I am an Agatha Christie fan and am currently re-working my way through her oeuvre on my Agatha Christie Challenge. So it was a no-brainer that I would want to see Rian Johnson’s homage to her style, Knives Out. And, in the best tradition of not telling you whodunit, I promise I won’t! Mr Johnson made us promise at the beginning of the film anyway, and I’m not going to be the one who told you that the policeman did it. (Damn!!!)
It may be an homage to Christie but the first few scenes are pure Sleuth, mixed with a spot of Ira Levin’s Deathtrap. The walls of the Thrombey family mansion are crammed with posters celebrating the works of the great writer and patriarch Harlan Thrombey, and there’s even one of those laughing sailor dolls lurking around, which made me think this was going to become a psychological two-hander. But, no – the doll is mere window dressing, and there’s precious little that’s psychological about the plot – the motive is much more basic than that. Poirot would actually be really disappointed.
So, who killed Harlan Thrombey? That’s not a spoiler – he’s revealed with his throat slit within the first minute of action. At least it’s one of those thrillers that starts with the crime and works backwards, which is much more likely to arrest your attention than when you get all the clues and motives first and then the crime happens about an hour later. And there’s indeed a host of suspects, brought to life by a star-strangled cast, each one outperforming the others in terms of their suspiciousness and lack of likeability.
And that’s a major problem with the film as I see it. The suspects are all (bar one) varying degrees of unpleasant, and heavily caricatured – Rian Johnson has said that the hokey cult 1970s musical Something’s Afoot, which was a Christie spoof populated by stereotypes, was an influence on this film, and I think it works to its detriment. There’s only one sympathetic suspect – and it very much turns into her story – but the rest of them are so vile that they deserve everything coming to them. It was this lack of interest in the characters’ outcomes that decided Mrs Chrisparkle to give in and go to sleep after hanging on for the first 90 minutes.
Yes, there are some wonderfully quirky moments. I enjoyed Detective Blanc’s rendition of Losing My Mind from Sondheim’s Follies whilst waiting in the car; these cops obviously enjoy their musical theatre as there’s also a fleeting reference to Hamilton. There’s a comic moment in the heat of the final denouement which is very nicely done (although completely predictable). A suspect deliberately stomping through the mud to obliterate footprints is very funny. But, on the whole, the film comes across as overwhelmingly dark – not dark as in film noir, but dark as in why doesn’t someone open the curtains – and what’s meant to suggest suspense and eeriness just ends up being gloomy. It lacks light and shade, as though its dial is firmly set to murky.
As Detective Blanc, Daniel Craig has adopted a vocal drawl unlike any other known to man – kudos to him for keeping it up for over two hours. It’s an engaging performance nonetheless, although at times he feels a little more like Clouseau than Poirot. More entertaining vocal tics come from the constricted cords of Toni Collette, as Joni the Insta Influencer, and it was a pleasure to see Frank Oz in the cameo role of the Thrombey family lawyer. But it’s Ana de Armas as Marta who makes the film watchable as the only character with whom we can really connect, and her marvellous performance smashes the movie into the realms of 3 stars from me.
As for the solution to this heinous crime – well, as a Facebook relationship status might confess, it’s complicated, and I challenge anyone to answer successfully the question that Mrs C put to me on the way home – so, whodunit? – in full. I had to re-read the synopsis online twice in order to be certain that I fully understood exactly who was guilty of what. And, believe me, I was paying attention. It must have been the accents.
Backbeat, the word on the street says this could be the first in a series of films featuring Detective Blanc. They may have to consider subtitles.
Sometimes it’s easy to talk about a film or a play without giving away too many spoilers. However, in the case of The Good Liar, it’s virtually impossible. Roy and Betty meet over dinner, having been chatting on a dating website; he seems in frail health so, a few nights later, Betty allows him to stay over in her house rather than walking all the way up the stairs to his own apartment. But, actually,he’s in perfect health and appears to be part of a gang – or at least a partnership – of swindlers, defrauding greedy but stupid investors of their hard earned cash. OK – that’s not too much of an opening spoiler.
There is, however, a basic twist to the story – and let’s face it, it wouldn’t be much of a thriller if there wasn’t, so that in itself isn’t a spoiler. However, if you have any inkling of this twist in advance, it will completely ruin it for you. So, if you want a quick spoiler-free review, all I’ll say is that it’s enjoyable, well-performed, although with some unnecessary gore and unexpectedly bad language from Sir Ian, and, frankly, in some respects rather an unpleasant film. If you like the sound of a dramatic pairing between Sir Ian McKellen and Dame Helen Mirren, then you’ll love it. And who wouldn’t fancy that? Now, if you want no more spoilers, bookmark this page, go and see the film and then come back. In the meantime, the rest of us will get on with dissecting it….
… I think they’ve gone. Phew! Now I can tell you what I really think. SPOILER ALERT!!! (Just in case) The strength and weakness of this film is in the casting. Sir Ian and Dame Helen are a powerful combo, and there are many exciting, tense, witty and dramatic scenes between the two. But do you really think an actor like Dame Helen would have taken a role as an elderly woman defrauded of her assets, made to look stupid and weak? Naaaa. Now, if it had been Dame Judi, she might have built up an emotional image of noble fragility and crumbled beautifully in front of us all as a downtrodden old dear. But this is Dame Helen. From the Janis Joplin-like Maggie in David Hare’s Teeth ‘n’ Smiles to D.I. Jane Tennison and many roles before or after, she’s always the spunky, spiky, unpredictable, gritty strong woman. And if anyone’s going to outsmart Sir Ian’s Roy, it’s her Betty. I’m sure I’m not the only person who thought right from the start of the film that her character has her own agenda.
Revenge is a dish best served cold, they say, and that’s proved without a doubt in this finely-detailed plot to put right a wrong over half a century old. No wonder it’s set in 2009; if it had been set in 2019, the past would probably be too distant for them to do anything about it. When you discover the elaborateness of the pre-planning, before the substance of the film gets underway, you feel both wow, that’s clever and wow, that’s far-fetched in about 50-50 measure. Nevertheless, the film does weave an enjoyably intricate web of deceit that is entertaining to observe, and, despite the occasional horror and gore, there is something delightfully British afternoon-tea about the whole thing. At times it feels like an episode of Midsomer Murders as directed by Quentin Tarantino.
Sir Ian and Dame Helen dominate the film throughout, and with acting of their quality, that’s no surprise. A very small cast adds to a sense of claustrophobia. Personally, I find it hard to watch Jim Carter and not see Mr Carson from Downton Abbey; here he plays Roy’s partner-in-crime Vincent, like a spiv Mr Carson, hair bouffoned up and with a constant eye for a cash deal. Russell Tovey plays Russell Tovey playing Stephen, Betty’s grandson, a suspicious lad with an unexpected grasp of Nazi history, who spends most of the film acting as Roy’s chauffeur with bad grace. There’s a nice performance from Mark Lewis Jones as Bryn, the hapless investor who bumbles his way through a deal and is sacrificed for his pains. But there’s no doubt the film belongs to its two big stars.
Mrs Chrisparkle was finding it a very unhappy film until the twist started to reveal itself; clearly she was empathising with Betty just a wee bit too much, and it’s just a bit too unimaginative to base a plot on a ruthless old git manipulating an innocent old girl. But Dame Helen isn’t an innocent old girl, never has been, never will be. Very watchable and enjoyable, a couple of moments when my dislike of violence made my stomach retch slightly, and an ending where one plot to deceive fails catastrophically and another plot succeeds miraculously. Recommended, but primarily for the acting.
“Can you remember what happened at the end of Toy Story 3”, I asked Mrs Chrisparkle as we walked to the cinema last night. “Nope,” she replied, “but I’m sure there’ll be some kind of catch up at the beginning”. And sure enough, the film opens with “Nine years ago….”; and you sit there and think, was it really that long since we last saw Woody and his toy pals in a series of manic episodes of mild peril? Yes it was! And, because I know you’re trying to remember the date, the first film came out in 1995. Some of those ten-year olds who saw the first movie in that year are probably grandparents by now. Well, not quite, but you get my drift.
Woody, now handed over to Bonnie by Andy, is no longer her favourite toy although he still commands some respect in the toy community. Bonnie’s off to kindergarten, and she’s scared (who wouldn’t be?) Woody sneaks into her backpack to give her some support on the orientation day. But things start to brighten up for her when she makes a toy from a spork, some pipe cleaners and a lolly stick, rescued from the bin by Woody; welcome to the world, Forky. Bonnie is much attached to Forky, but Forky doesn’t want to be a toy; his low self-esteem makes him feel he’s only suited to the trash can. Bonnie’s parents take her on a mini road-trip to soften her up for returning to kindergarten; but Forky’s existential crisis causes him to hurl himself from the campervan, and, naturally, Woody takes it on himself to rescue him.
Thus separated from the rest of the family, Woody now has to track them down at the funfair site where they have parked; but, en route, he bumps into Bo-Peep, to whom he said goodbye years ago… and that complicates matters. Things always get messy when there’s a whiff of romance in the air. Will Woody and Forky reunite with Bonnie? Will Bo-Peep continue her strong solo woman lifestyle? And what about the voiceless doll Gabby Gabby, who wants to steal Woody’s voicebox so that she becomes desirable again? I’m not going to tell you, you’ll have to watch the film to find out!
If you’ve seen the previous films (of course you have) then you’ll be itching to know what becomes of Woody, Buzz, Jessie and the rest of the gang. And I can tell you that you won’t be remotely disappointed, it’s everything you hope to get from a Toy Story movie and probably more. There’s a level of reflection, introspection even, in this film which, if it was evident in the previous incarnations, receives greater emphasis here.
In a lovely reversal of the human experience of this situation, the social stigma of being a childless toy is so overwhelming in this film’s universe that if you’re not childless, you have to whisper it so as not to upset the others. Attachment to a kid is the ultimate in existence. If you don’t have a kid, you’re not really a toy – discuss. The concept of listening to and acting on your inner voice is also brought to the forefront, with Woody’s highly developed sense of responsibility leaving the others frequently nonplussed as to his recklessness. Buzz tries to get a grip on the inner voice concept, and relates it to the random automated announcements that he emits whenever he presses his belt buttons. Gabby’s inner voice is silenced and the only way she can expect a happy future is to deprive another toy of his own voicebox.
Technically, of course, it’s superb. The animation is a constant delight, with the vivid funfair, the dusty old antique shop, the torrential rain, for example, all being totally convincing. Did Woody and Buzz always have the identical pointy nose? The action is fast and furious, the script is funny, the characterisations are spot on, and the emotions are, definitely, real.
No expense was spared in recruiting the finest actors for bringing these toys to life, and they all do a brilliant job. Most of the old favourites are there; Slinky the dog, Mr Pricklepants the luvvie actor hedgehog, the Potato Heads (despite his death in 2017, Don Rickles is still the voice of Mr Potato Head, using unused audio recordings from the previous films), Rex the hyper-anxious dinosaur, and Hamm the cynical piggybank.
In addition to Forky and Gabby, New Toys on the Block include the streetwise compact police officer Giggles McDimples, carnival toys Bunny and Ducky, nightmare henchmen the Bensons, and, my favourite, wannabe macho poseur stunt rider Duke Caboom, who fails to live up to his advert’s hype as far as adventurousness is concerned, but loves to strike a pose on his bike – with hilarious but totally believable voicing from Keanu Reeves.
Memorably enjoyable moments include the farcical sat nav instructions from Mrs Potato Head and Buttercup the hardnosed unicorn, the intimidating presence of the ventriloquist dummy Bensons, the unpredictable antics of Bo-Peep’s sheep, and the repulsive regurgitation of Giggles when she’s spat out like a furball.
The resolution to the story was not at all what I expected; it breaks the rules as to how a toy should behave – and is really endearing as a result. However, despite the emotional content, it didn’t create any activity in the tear duct department, unlike my friend the Squire of Sidcup who saw it with his dad and it reduced both of them to blubbering messes. However, it’s a thoroughly enjoyable film – at 100 minutes it’s the perfect length – and a more than worthy successor to its three prequels. If you’ve got any old toys hanging around from your childhood – go give them a hug. They need it.