First, gentle reader, let me be among the last (probably) to wish you a happy new year – and, my word, we don’t half need one. I hope you’re doing as well as can be expected under these trying circumstances, Covid-dodging on a daily basis, crossing every digit available for your turn for the vaccine to come as soon as possible.
It’s thin pickings for a theatre blogger at the moment; not only because the theatres are all closed, but also because, try as I might, I find it hard to get enthusiastic about live streaming theatre. I know, I know, my bad. I thought I would take to it like a duck to water; instead, I’ve taken to it like Boris Johnson to the truth. It tends to remind me more of what we’re all missing, rather than having something that’s worth it in itself. And I know it’s worth it, and I definitely implore you to keep downloading and streaming, because the industry needs it. Please forgive me if I simply can’t bring myself to do it too.
One difference (for me) from Lockdown 1.0 to Lockdown 3.0 – I feel more fired up about reading. Last March and April I couldn’t have cared less for the written word. Today I feel it ought to play more of a part in my daily rituals. So I shall definitely be continuing with my Agatha Christie and Paul Berna Challenges, and, on a less regular basis, the James Bond Challenge (they’re a lot of work and take a long time to write!) I’ll also try to keep up with my nostalgic theatre memories and my lockdown travel reminiscences. As for going back to the theatre, I feel as though it will be unlikely for me until I’ve had both doses of my vaccine and given them the statutory three weeks to bed in. With current progress, I hope that means I’ll be in time for next Christmas’s pantos!
I knew there was something else I wanted to tell you. There’ll be no Chrisparkle Awards this January. There doesn’t seem a lot of point hiring the costumes and the television cameras etc to celebrate 10 weeks’ worth of live entertainment (not that it isn’t worth celebrating, but I’m sure you get my drift). With any luck the Awards will return this time next year. Or this time in two years’ time. Who knows.
Stay safe everyone. Look after your minds as well as your bodies. We can all feel somewhat fragile at the moment – there’s no shame in that. My appreciation for the emergency services and the NHS is off the scale; may all the people who work there safely and successfully keep us all well whilst remaining fit and healthy themselves. We’ll get through it all, I’m sure.
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.
In which James Bond falls in love with the alluring Contessa Tracy yet still finds time to plot to overthrow Blofeld at his secret Swiss hideaway, where he is organising a mass hypnotism of twelve girls to go out into the world and arrange for its destruction. Blofeld is trying to lay claim to the title ‘Count Balthazar de Bleuchamp’, so, pretending to be the genealogist Sir Hilary Bray, Bond infiltrates his lair, but his cover is quickly blown. Blofeld’s Headquarters are stormed and he is severely injured in a bobsled fight against Bond, but will he, nevertheless, achieve his aim of implanting infertility in a range of species of flora and fauna? And, above all, will Bond and Tracy live happily ever after?
Originally Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman had planned to film The Man with the Golden Gun as the follow-up to You Only Live Twice, with Roger Moore lined up to play Bond; but political instability in Cambodia made it impossible to film there, and Moore signed up for a further series of the TV series The Saint, so they went back to the often-shelved Plan B to film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Again there was an interval of two years since the previous Bond film, and its budget of $7 million was a considerable drop on YOLT’s $10.3 million, largely as a result of the decision to replace regular production designer Ken Adam with Syd Cain, whose vision for the film required smaller sets; another financial help was the fact that George Lazenby’s fee of $100,000 was way less than Connery’s $800,000. Its box office take of $82 million – whilst still a tremendous amount – was the lowest profit for an Eon Productions Bond film since 1963’s From Russia with Love. Usual screenwriter Richard Maibaum, who had missed out on writing You Only Live Twice as he was working on Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, was re-engaged, and would keep the job till 1989. Writer Simon Raven, who had reviewed a number of Fleming’s novels for The Listener magazine, but who was better known as a novelist, and later for the TV series The Pallisers and Edward and Mrs Simpson, was hired to write additional material, specifically for those conversations between Blofeld and Tracy, and with Sir Hilary, which they wanted to be snappier and more intellectual.
Peter Hunt, who had worked with tremendous success as Editor or Second Unit Director on all the previous Eon Bond films, was promoted to director for OHMSS; and indeed, he is the first person to be seen at the beginning of the film, it’s his reflection in the brass plate on the street behind which M and Q are meeting. Hunt’s ambition for the film was to make if different from all the others; less reliant on gadgets and gimmicks, closer to the original book than its predecessors, and, above all, glamorous. This would be the last Bond film on which he worked, although his editing/directorial career would continue until the early 90s. For his editor, he chose John Glen, and as cinematographer, Michael Reed, with both of whom he had worked on Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Glen would go on to be a successful Bond director in the 80s. John Barry was, of course, again responsible for the music, all apart from Monty Norman’s James Bond Theme. Aerial Unit Cameraman John Jordan, who had to have a leg amputated after an accident during the filming of You Only Live Twice, developed a special helicopter harness for filming the amazing aerial shots of the mountain slopes and action sequences in OHMSS, hanging eighteen feet below the helicopter from a large round metal support apparatus. However, his daredevil approach to work would literally be the death of him, as, in his next job, he died while filming Catch-22 in 1969 over the Gulf of Mexico when another plane passed close by. He was sucked out of the open doorway and fell 2,000 feet, always having refused to wear a safety harness.
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was published in 1963 and was the tenth book in Ian Fleming’s series of James Bond novels. It’s the second of the so-called Blofeld Trilogy, coming between Goldfinger and You Only Live Twice, which explains why so much of the screenplay for that last book had to deviate from its original – the events of OHMSS (including Bond’s briefest of marriages, and the fact that Blofeld isn’t dead yet) not having yet been translated onto the screen. It was the first Bond book to be written after the film series had started, Fleming writing most of it at his Jamaica home whilst Dr No was being filmed around the corner. Fleming’s working title was The Belles of Hell, but Fleming’s friend Nicholas Henderson, who would go on to be the UK’s Ambassador to the USA, spotted the title On Her Majesty’s Secret Service on an old sailing book in Portobello Market, and the rest is history.
This was the first “proper” Bond movie that I saw at the cinema – I had seen the spoof Casino Royale, but that was just pure comedy. I would have been 9 years old when I saw it; I recall there was a lot of peer group pressure from schoolfriends to see it and then give playground reviews afterwards. I remember watching it with my mother at the Odeon in Aylesbury and really enjoying it – until the last scene, and then I bawled my eyes out all the way home. I may have omitted that fact in my playground review.
True to Peter Hunt’s vision, the book and the film tread very much the same storyline – probably a closer adaptation than any of the previous films. There are only a few very minor deviations from the original plot. The book received largely very good reviews. The Guardian said it was: “not only up to Mr. Fleming’s usual level, but perhaps even a bit above it”, whilst the Observer reckoned: “O.H.M.S.S. is certainly the best Bond for several books. It is better plotted and retains its insane grip until the end”. The Houston Chronicle described it as: “Fleming at his urbanely murderous best”, and the Washington Post wrote that Bond was: “still irresistible to women, still handsome in a menacing way, still charming. He has nerves of steel and thews of whipcord […] Fleming’s new book will not disappoint his millions of fans”. Among the few nay-sayers, the New York Times declared: “this is a silly and tedious novel.”
The majority of the contemporary film reviews concentrated on comparing the performance of George Lazenby in the role with that of Sean Connery – and by far the majority finding him lacking. For example, the Daily Mirror said he “looks uncomfortably in the part like a size four foot in a size ten gumboot.” But the film itself also received criticism, the Observer reviewer noting “I fervently trust it will be the last of the James Bond films. All the pleasing oddities and eccentricities and gadgets of the earlier films have somehow been lost, leaving a routine trail through which the new James Bond strides without noticeable signs of animation.” Today, however, the film receives a much improved response, perhaps encapsulated in filmmaker Steven Soderbergh’s assessment: “For me there’s no question that cinematically On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is the best Bond film and the only one worth watching repeatedly for reasons other than pure entertainment … Shot to shot, this movie is beautiful in a way none of the other Bond films are.” And, for my own part, I have to agree with that. This does have a very different feel from the other films to date, which really makes it stand out, and that cinematography truly has the wow factor.
The opening credits begin, as usual, 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. This time, though, Bond has changed, and it’s our first glimpse of George Lazenby in the role. Unlike previous Bonds, he gets down on one knee to shoot; and for the first time, the blood fills up the entire screen. Appropriately, to ring the changes, the music has been re-recorded again, with a brand new arrangement; slower, the notes being picked out on an organ keyboard that was so popular in the Easy Listening world of the late 60s. As a result, it’s possibly a little less impactful than the one we’re used to.
We’re in London, where M, Q and Moneypenny have no idea where James Bond is. Then the scene changes to Portugal, and the opening car chase where Tracy overtakes Bond and they both drive to the beach. She runs down into the sea with the intent of taking her own life, but Bond runs after her and rescues her from the water. No sooner has he said “Good morning! My name is Bond, James Bond” then he has someone’s gun pointed at him and a big fight between the two of them takes place in the breaking waves on the beach. Tracy runs to escape, takes Bond’s car to the road, leaps into her car and runs off. Bond turns to the audience and quips “this never happened to the other fellow”.
And then we’re into the credits; and the point where traditionally we’d hear a title theme; but On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, as a word phrase, doesn’t have lyrical flexibility. Maybe it would fit in with a marching theme or a Gilbert and Sullivan pastiche, but Peter Hunt wasn’t keen on that. John Barry agreed, and instead wrote an instrumental track for the opening. There’s no question in my mind that the opening music is very dull by Bond standards and doesn’t grab your attention. Visually, however, the opening credits are very intriguing, as they show flashbacks from the previous Bond movies, again to soften the audience in preparation for a new actor as Bond – and it’s a device that works very well. Using an hourglass motif in the titles also suggests the passing of time. Very clever.
And the locations? The majority of the film was shot in Switzerland, with the revolving restaurant, Piz Gloria, on top of the Schillthorn mountain being the site of Blofeld’s headquarters. Other Alpine scenes were filmed in Bern, Grindelwald, Lauterbrunnen and Saas-Fee. Gumbold’s offices were filmed in Bern, and, as luck would have it, there was a building site opposite the building where they were filming which was a perfect fit for the script. The filming switched to Portugal for the coast and beach scenes; the hotel in the first scene was the hotel that the crew stayed at in Cascais, so the pool, the interiors and so on, are all real. The bullfight scene was filmed at Vinhas estate in Zambujal, with Bond and Tracy reuniting in Lisbon and the final scene being shot on a mountain road near Setubal. The indoor scenes were all filmed at Pinewood Studios, and M’s grand country house, Quarterdeck, was filmed in Marlow.
Bond, James Bond. Fittingly, those are (almost) the first words from George Lazenby He was born in Goulburn, Australia, in 1939; he served in the Australian army, then worked as a car salesman and mechanic, before moving to London in 1963. Still a car salesman, he was spotted by a talent scout who suggested he became a model – and in 1966 he was voted Top Model of the Year, following a hugely lucrative contract in a Fry’s Chocolate commercial.
Famously he won the role by excelling in a stunt fight scene screentest, where his combatant was the Russian wrestler Yuri Borienko; by all accounts Borienko was literally floored. Peter Hunt had a job on his hands to make us warm to the new Bond as quickly as possible. And he achieved that by deliberately not making a big thing of it, but just by showing us, in the opening credits, Bond’s cigarettes, his glasses, and other close-ups but not of his complete face. We don’t see his face in full until he introduces himself to the prostrate Tracy. By the time he gets to say his funny line at the end of the scene, we already had accepted him, and didn’t miss Connery for a second.
But it doesn’t sound like Lazenby and Bond were meant for each other. Stories abounded that he was difficult to work with, not very professional, and too big for his boots. On the other hand, he always said that he was treated like an outcast, almost sent to Coventry on set, and not given the help he felt he needed as the “new boy”. You choose who to believe. It seems certain that he and co-star Diana Rigg did not get on, with stories about her deliberately eating garlic before their intimate scenes, and her calling him self-obsessed and “bloody impossible”; although Peter Hunt was delighted at the way the two worked together. Despite all advice against the move, Lazenby decided, whilst still making the movie, that he wouldn’t play Bond again; much to his agent’s dismay. And it’s true, his career never reached the dizzying heights of such a role again, although he still appeared on film and TV.
I have his autograph – look, here it is! My cousin Gill worked for him for a few months around the time of the film’s premiere, as what they used to call in those days his “Girl Friday”. I remember seeing a photospread of the two of them in a newspaper around the time of the film. So, for a brief time, we all thought of George as one of the family.
As mentioned earlier, most of the contemporary reviewers didn’t think he was a good fit for the role. He may have had the looks, but he lacked the gravitas and the acting ability. However, and all due credit to him, he did at least some of his own stunts (which must have worried the film accountant). It’s also been said that Lazenby’s characterisation of Bond is probably closest to Fleming’s original, getting the right level of arrogance, yet with his vulnerability. Not having read the books, I can’t comment. However, this is the first time that we’ve seen Bond take matters into his own hands, specifically working against M’s instructions. He’s informed that Operation Bedlam is dead, but does that stop him from going back to Switzerland to save Tracy? After all, she saved him. I believe this is true to the book.
Boo-boos. Not as many as in previous films – maybe this is a testament to Peter Hunt’s abilities as a director. I only noticed two; there’s a moment where Bond confronts Tracy about the henchman who was waiting for him in Tracy’s hotel room. “Who was he?” he demands of her; except his mouth doesn’t move. When acid is thrown at the glass doors during the siege of Piz Gloria, it burns a huge hole in the panel, but the next minute, it’s disappeared.
The Bond Girl. Unusually, there’s never any doubt as to who gets the honour of being the Bond Girl in the film – there’s really only one candidate, the Contessa Teresa di Vicenzo, whom Bond saves from suicide in the opening scenes, then becomes assertively headstrong and bossily obnoxious, before overwhelmingly suddenly melting into Bond’s heart.
Also unusually, she has very little to do with the case in hand. Normally the Bond Girl will accompany Bond and another local representative deep into the enemy’s lair and help overthrow them. Not this time. Countess Tracy is outside the action right up until she comes to Bond’s rescue, turning up on the ice rink – although how she knew he was there heaven only knows – and even allowing herself to be wooed by the villain.
And, of course, with the intention of being the Bond Girl for ever more, they marry at the end of the film and drive off for the life together. Apparently, had Lazenby agreed to make the next film – which would have been The Spy who Loved Me, again directed by Peter Hunt, OHMSS would have ended with them happily driving off; and the next film would have started with Blofeld and Bunt’s retaliation. However, as he made it clear that wasn’t going to happen, the decision was made to kill off poor Tracy then and there. And The Spy who Loved Me wasn’t made until 1977.
In the book, Tracy is a blonde, and Peter Hunt’s first choice for the role was Brigitte Bardot. However, she was unavailable, so Tracy was played by the one and only Dame Diana Rigg. When the film came out she had acted with the Royal Shakespeare Company for a couple of seasons and was already an established TV star because of her role as Emma Peel in The Avengers. However, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was her first major film role. Although she has continued to make films, she is more known for her TV and stage work, and, at the age of 80, she is without question a National Treasure. The fact that it was the wonderful Diana Rigg made it perhaps even more unacceptable to see her die at the end of the film. It was like extinguishing the source of decades of talent. Absolutely shocking.
What Bond Girls Are Like. From the first four films, our list of attributes common to the Bond Girls was: 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 and vengeful. Kissy from You Only Live Twice is a role apart because of her Japanese heritage. Does Tracy conform to the role, and add any extra traits? I’d say she does all of the above, plus additional bossiness. And she quotes poetry!
The Villain. It’s a welcome (if that’s the right word) back to Blofeld, this time played by Telly Savalas. Whilst still being mean and vindictive, Savalas’ interpretation is less of a pantomime baddie and more like a real live, believable person; less scarred, more urbane, and with a very ostentatious and effete manner of smoking a cigarette. Whilst he still likes to pay attention to his pussy, his feline accomplice plays a lesser role in this film. As is often the case with the Bond villain, he doesn’t make his appearance for some time: 52 minutes into the action. Telly Savalas, of course, was best known as TV’s Kojak, but had a very long career in films and television, as well as recording his No 1 top selling single of If in 1975. Whilst on set he met and fell in love with Dani Sheridan, who played the American Girl. She was the daughter of actress Dinah Sheridan, and they lived together for ten years, and had a son, Nicholas. Telly Savalas died in 1994 at the age of 72.
Other memorable characters? Tracy’s father Marc-Ange Draco, a distinguished and elegant gentleman (and crook) if ever there was one, was played by Gabriele Ferzetti, a very successful Italian actor who had appeared in well over a hundred films and TV programmes, predominantly in the 1950s and 1960s. He died in 2015 at the age of 90. He was, by all accounts, as charming in real life as his screen persona, and a joy to work with. His Italian accent was too strong for the role, so his voice was dubbed by actor David de Keyser, who has, in fact, dubbed many films throughout a long career.
Sir Hilary Bray – not in the film for very long as himself, but it’s a nice little character part by George Baker, a very posh chap who is looking forward to losing himself amongst the Brass Rubbings of Britanny, whilst Bond pretends to be him. Ian Fleming thought Baker would be a superb Bond back in the early days – but Broccoli and Saltzman said no. However, when George Lazenby was impersonating Bray in Switzerland, they didn’t think he got his voice quite right, so George Baker was asked to dub him – so, eventually, he did get to play Bond in his own way. This was not his only appearance in a Bond movie; he also appears in 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me. He was a very successful actor with a long career, including several years as TV’s Inspector Wexford. He died in 2011 at the age of 80.
Irma Bunt – one of those grim-faced Germanic women who populate the James Bond stories, Irma Bunt may seem decent and polite at first, but remember she’s Blofeld’s No 2 and definitely not to be trusted – as we see in the final seconds of the film. She was played by Ilse Steppat, whose first role was Joan of Arc at the age of 15, and who had a successful film career in Germany, particularly in the German adaptations of the works of Edgar Wallace. Sadly she did not live to see international success, as she died of a heart attack only four days after the premiere at the age of only 52.
The twelve girls – some are given full identities, like Ruby Bartlett, who’s keenest on getting Bray/Bond into bed, others are just “the English Girl” or “the Scandinavian girl”, and so on. They’re all wide-eyed and innocent – on the surface – giving a humorous aspect to their role, which is, basically, to supply some eye candy as a bevy of beauties. Angela Scoular played Ruby; she appeared in a number of comedy films of the 70s and was married to the actor Leslie Phillips. Joanna Lumley is instantly recognisable as the English girl, Julie Ege, a former Miss Norway, was the Scandinavian girl, and the Irish girl was played by Jenny Hanley, whom I mainly remember in my childhood appearing on ITV’s answer to Blue Peter, Magpie.
Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell and Desmond Llewelyn reprise their usual roles as M, Moneypenny and Q. In his attempt to make the film as glamorous as possible, Moneypenny has sharper, more elegant clothes, a stunning hairdo – and a fabulous hat for Bond and Tracy’s wedding. As well as occupying the London office, we see M at his country residence, pursuing his relaxation hobby of lepidoptery. Who knew?
And what about the music? The film starts, as usual, with the main James Bond Theme, written by Monty Norman; after that, it’s all John Barry, until the big fight scene at the end, when the Norman theme returns. Whilst researching this film, I read that many people think this is the best Bond score of all. I must disagree. The arrangement of the opening theme is a drab and lacklustre affair. However, we hear We Have All the Time in the World (which are the last words of both the novel and the film) many times in the first half hour of the film, as a softly performed background romantic theme. It also accompanies Tracy’s arrival at the bullfight, performed with a luscious string arrangement, and that’s a particularly stunning moment. Earlier Bond themes are brought back in a tongue-in-cheek moment; and there’s a great theme to accompany the ski chases.
The full vocal performance of We Have all the Time in the World, recorded by Louis Armstrong when he himself, poignantly, had not long to live, is an absolute classic; it was Armstrong’s final recording and John Barry’s favourite Bond song. It’s the perfect accompaniment to the romantic scenes of Bond and Tracy falling in love. It’s also nice to hear Do you know how Christmas Trees are Grown, sung by Nina, who had international success in the 60s as part of Nina and Frederick. And, in the same way that the opening credits gave us a visual reminder of the previous Bond films, we hear musical reminders of the earlier themes when Bond, having tendered his resignation, starts to pack up his things; we even hear a little of the Mango Tree song from Dr No sung by Diana Coupland. There’s one other theme, called, fittingly, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, which is repeated many times throughout the film, just with slight changes of arrangement; for the most part, it’s quite haunting. And the final arrangement of We Have All the Time in the World is desperately poignant in that last, horrendous, scene.
Car chases. The film starts with a moderately exciting and brief car chase between Bond and Tracy, driving her red Mercury Cougar XR-7 convertible. The producers wanted Bond to have a Rolls Royce Convertible – but that wasn’t an easy request in those days, so it was scrapped. Later, Tracy drives Bond with three heavies and Irma Bunt in hot pursuit behind her and it merges into a Stock Car Racing event, with our heroes and villains having to dodge the other drivers on the course, which is great fun. But where this film really impresses is with the ski action; all the ski chases, and that amazing bobsled race and fight, where Bond and Blofeld pursue each other at breakneck speed, lobbing grenades, hanging on to the back of the sled for dear life, whilst Blofeld tries to ram Bond’s head against the ice wall.
Cocktails and Casinos. There’s an early casino scene, in the hotel in Cascais, which very nicely helps us judge up the two characters of Bond and Tracy. Draco knows that Bond takes his Martini, shaken not stirred, Bond places an order for a Dom Perignon ’57 (one of his favourites) and will also consider a brandy from the rescuing St. Bernard, provided it’s a 5 Star Hennessey.
Gadgets. For the second film in a row, Bond uses a cute little safe-breaker to steal documents; this time it also copies them for him, which is very handy. The initial conversation between M and Q reveals that their current range of gadgets is obsolete, and that miniaturisation is all the rage – and Q gets out some radioactive lint. But Peter Hunt didn’t want Bond to rely on gadgets in this film – so that’s all there is!
In Memoriam.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; Goldfinger came in at a more modest 23-ish, plus everyone who died at Fort Knox; Thunderball hit a peak of around 50 people; and You Only Live Twice was going really well until a mass murder spree towards the end took about 40 lives. And now On Her Majesty’s Secret Service? Let’s briefly remember those who gave their lives so that Bond and Tracy can enjoy a few minutes of wedded bliss:
1) Campbell, an agent working alongside 007 who was hanged on the mountainside by Blofeld’s henchmen
2) Ski workman
3) Skier – ended up in a tree
4) Skier who plummets to his death
5) Skier garrotted by his own ski (by Bond) and then thrown down the mountain
6) Skier, chopped up by the snow plough
7) At least two skiers in the avalanche
8) Grunther murdered by Tracy
9) At least 10 shot during the taking of Piz Gloria
That’s maybe something in the region of 20 people? That’s possibly the lowest death count in a Bond movie so far. What is the most unusual about this list of deaths in comparison to the previous films is the length of time we wait until someone dies – No 1 pegs it 1 hour and 19 minutes into the film.
Humour to off-set the death count. Following Bond’s classic asides whenever someone dies in the previous movies, some of his funny lines in this film apply to people who aren’t necessarily dead – maybe that’s because there are fewer deceased than usual. Anyway, here is some more evidence of his gallows humour:
To the henchman, who lost the fight in room 423 when he was thrown through a balustrade: “Gatecrasher… I’ll leave you to tidy up”
“Looks like we’ve hit the rush hour”, says Bond as Tracy careers all around the Stock Car circuit, hotly pursued by Bunt and her boys.
“He had lots of guts” is Bond’s epitaph to the skier caught in the snow plough.
“Maybe you should have been gift wrapped”, he says to the guard tied up in the Werkstatt office.
“He’s branched off”, says Bond as a fallen tree catches Blofeld’s head in its branches – the joke makes us assume that Blofeld is dead.
Also – “just as slight stiffness coming on”, says Bond, as Ruby writes her room number on Bray/Bond’s thigh in lipstick; followed by “it’s true!” when he confirms the old conundrum about what’s worn under the kilt.
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. As usual, I couldn’t perceive any obvious homophobic elements, and nothing came across as overtly racist.
However, as usual, there is some sexism, the majority of it turned against Tracy by her father. Whilst Bond thinks she needs a psychiatrist, Draco says that Tracy needs a man to dominate her. “Spare the rod and spoil the child” says Draco, as he knocks Tracy out with a wallop of a smack across the face. The Belles of Hell up in Blofeld’s lair are partly just sexist fodder, very much out of the Austin Powers camp; although it’s a little more complicated than that. Whilst they are obviously being manipulated overall by Blofeld and Bunt, they are nevertheless using their naïve charms for their own ends. Part of Blofeld’s plan to hypnotise the girls into doing what he wants involves attracting them with a pretty thing like a powder compact. In a sense, he’s using the compacts as a weapon against women, but which are attracted to women. Very cynical.
Bizarre other stuff that occurred to me and a few observations.
In South Africa they censored the final caption of the opening credits, where Peter Hunt’s name is given, because there were too many silhouette nipples on show. So in South Africa, it looked as though no one had directed it!
Peter Hunt wanted the character of Tracy to be associated with flowers. Flowers at the wedding, flowers on the bed….. and it’s true, you can follow Tracy’s floral motif through all her scenes.
The picture of Tracy’s mother, that holds pride of place on Draco’s side table, is actually a genuine photograph of Diana Rigg’s mother. There’s verisimilitude for you.
When Bond is packing his case following his resignation, he packs Honey Rider’s belt and knife, Red Grant’s watch in From Russia With Love, and the re-breather from Thunderball. All very nostalgic!
Bond finds a Playboy magazine in with the newspapers in Gumbold’s office; a nice nod to the fact that the original novel was first serialised in Playboy in the April, May and June issues in 1963.
The fight in the bell room was written in because Peter Hunt discovered the barn filled with cowbells when they were location hunting and it was far too good an opportunity to pass up.
The scene with the Saint Bernard dog was completely improvised by Lazenby as the dog didn’t do what was expected of him.
At the time it was the longest Bond film, at 142 minutes, a record it kept until Casino Royale; but it doesn’t feel it to me.
“Royal Beluga. North of the Caspian” is a brilliant throwaway line, when Bond carelessly smears a bit of caviar on some toast and walks on.
“You’re hurting me,” says Tracy to Bond, as he prises the gun out of her hand. “I thought that was the idea tonight” he replies, and he slaps her around a bit more. Just what kind of sex night did he have planned??
He’s uncredited, but you might recognise the actor Steve Plytas to Bond’s right at the casino table. He was best known as the somewhat unstable chef Kurt, who had a crush on Manuel, hired by Basil Fawlty in the Gourmet Night episode of Fawlty Towers. I met him at the stage door of the Ambassadors Theatre in 1971 where he was playing Mr Paravicini in The Mousetrap. Nice man!
Sensational cinematography – that avalanche! The Swiss Army had planned to create a controlled avalanche, but by the time they were ready to shoot it, all the snow had gone. So what we see is a combination of library material and clever set work with fake snow.
On the walls of Piz Gloria you often see a crest with the words Arae et foci – the Bleuchamp family motto, which means hearth and home. Orbis non sufficit – The World is not Enough – is the Bond family motto according to the Heraldry of Arms – and would of course be the name of a movie later in the series.
“Cassette No 7” says Blofeld from his hi-tech console, feeding mind-blowing pre-recorded vibes to the girls; it just seems so quaint that something so sci-fi forward looking would run on old C90s. Ruby’s allergy to chickens, on the face of it being cured by hypnosis, is all very 1960s trendy. But, of course, that’s not what Blofeld’s hypnosis is achieving….
In September 2012 it was announced that On Her Majesty’s Secret Service had topped a poll of Bond fans run by 007 Magazine to determine the greatest ever Bond film.
Awards: George Lazenby was nominated in the New Star of the Year – Actor category at the 1970 Golden Globe Award ceremony, but he lost out to Jon Voight for Midnight Cowboy.
To sum up. This is an absolute classic; certainly the most exciting of the Bond films to date, with an edgy performance by George Lazenby that works very well in retrospect. Lots of humour and comedic asides, but with a “real feel”; no wonder many 007 fans call this their favourite. Next up is a return to Sean Connery with Diamonds Are Forever; I saw this film when I was about 14 and enjoyed it very much so I am looking forward to seeing how it stands the test of time.
My rating: 5 Sparkles
All photos from the film of course belong to their various copyright holders.
In which SPECTRE mastermind a plot to kidnap both American and Soviet astronauts in space, in the hope that Cold War enmity would spark off a war between the two superpowers – thus enabling a new world power to emerge and take control. Even though everyone thinks that James Bond died in a gun attack in a Hong Kong bedroom, his death was faked and M has sent Bond to Tokyo to follow a trail that takes him into Blofeld’s lair – but will he and his pals prevent a world war? Yeah, of course!
It had been two years since the previous James Bond film, Thunderball, (if we ignore the spoof Casino Royale), and its budget of $10.3 million was perhaps only a modest increase in comparison with Thunderball’s $9 million; and its box office take of $111.6 million was almost $30 million down on the previous movie. Still, it’s not a bad profit. The budget to create SPECTRE’s volcano lair was almost the same as the entire budget for Dr No! Originally, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was due to be the next in the series, but the need to find mountainous and snowy locations to shoot, coupled with the Bond films’ enormous box office success in Japan, meant that the producers, Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, decided to go with the mainly-Tokyo based You Only Live Twice instead. Usual screenwriter Richard Maibaum was working on the producers’ non-Bond movie of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, so the producers offered the job to Harold Jack Bloom. They liked his story work, but not his script; so the writing credits went to Roald Dahl, who was a close friend of Ian Fleming. This was Dahl’s first attempt at writing a screenplay, and Harold Jack Bloom was credited as providing additional story material.
With previous director Terence Young now working in Europe and Guy Hamilton still needing a break from Bond, the directors approached Lewis Gilbert, who had recently directed the hugely successful Alfie with Michael Caine. Cinematography was by Freddie Young, of Lawrence of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago fame, editing by James Bond stalwart Peter Hunt, and production design by Ken Adam. John Barry was, of course, again responsible for the music, all apart from Monty Norman’s James Bond Theme. During the filming, Aerial Unit Cameraman John Jordan was leaning out of a helicopter to get a better shot, when another helicopter was caught in a gust of wind and was blown closer. The rotor blade cut his leg which had to be amputated.
You Only Live Twice was published in 1964 and was the twelfth book in Ian Fleming’s series of James Bond novels. Its title comes from a haiku that Bond wrote in the style of the famous Japanese poet, Basho: “You only live twice/Once when you are born/And once when you look death in the face”. It was the last book to be published in Fleming’s lifetime. Because there is a high travelogue content to the book, and it’s a more introvert story as we see Bond coping (or otherwise) with the death of his wife in the previous book, there isn’t a lot of content that could be adapted easily for an action adventure movie. Writer Roald Dahl therefore had to use a lot of imagination and collaboration with Lewis Gilbert to come up with a workable screenplay.
In the book, a tired, drunk and wasted Bond is given one last chance to turn his spy career around – convincing the Japanese secret service to share information they have about the Soviet Union. The Japanese ask Bond to kill Blofeld and Irma Bunt, who were responsible for the death of Bond’s wife – so he is happy to oblige. Bond is trained as a Japanese coal miner and meets former film star Kissy Suzuki as he infiltrates Blofeld’s garden of death. Bond kills Blofeld, gets Kissy pregnant – and then leaves for Vladivostok. If you’ve seen the film, you’ll realise there are a very few overlapping points between book and film; for example, the whole space-race and spaceship hijack elements were written purely for the film.
I’m pretty sure I saw You Only Live Twice in a double-bill at the Odeon Aylesbury with my schoolfriend John in the mid-1970s; probably with Goldfinger. I am also certain this would have been one of those occasions when the cinema manager had to come in and stop us from chatting and giggling all the way through. To those denizens of 1970s Aylesbury, I can only humbly apologise. John made me do it.
Although pre-sales for the book were very high, it received only mixed reviews. The Times wrote: “as a moderate to middling travelogue what follows will just about do … the plot with its concomitant sadism does not really get going until more than half way through”; The Listener noted: “if interest flags, as it may do, the book can be treated as a tourist guide to some of the more interesting parts of Japan”; and the Guardian complained: “of the 260 pages of You Only Live Twice … only 60 are concerned with the actual business of a thriller”. The film fared better, with Entertainment Weekly saying it “pushes the series to the outer edge of coolness”, Filmcritic calling it one of James Bond’s most memorable adventures, but finding the plot “protracting and quite confusing”, and Rotten Tomatoes concluding that: “with exotic locales, impressive special effects, and a worthy central villain, You Only Live Twice overcomes a messy and implausible story to deliver another memorable early Bond flick.” My own opinion is that this was possibly the most entertaining of the Bond movies at the time; I found the combination of action, villainy and humour just about right.
The opening credits begin, as usual, 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. As in Thunderball, Bond is now clearly Sean Connery – in the first three films it was stunt man Bob Simmons. However, the music – if my ears do not deceive me – has been re-recorded; it’s a slightly different arrangement, more “stereo” sounding and maybe just a hint slower.
We’re in outer space. NASA spacecraft Jupiter 16 is calmly and successfully achieving its mission. As one of the astronauts – Chris – emerges from the craft for a spacewalk exercise, a security control in Hawaii reports an unidentified object closing fast on Jupiter 16. As it gets closer, its head opens up as though it were some hungry shark with gaping teeth – and it swallows up the NASA craft. And, as it closes its pincers, it cuts off the cable that’s been linking Astronaut Chris to the main body of the craft – and he’s left to float around in space for eternity. Gruesome!
Back on earth, a summit conference is held where the Americans accuse the Russians of having stolen their spacecraft – a fact which the Russians deny, affirming that they are a peaceful nation. Another American spaceship will be launched in twenty days’ time, and the Americans confirm that any interference by the Russians will be looked on as an act of war. The British attempt to intercede, querying why the Russians would wish to capture an American spaceship. As British intelligence indicates that the spaceship came down in the Sea of Japan area, Her Majesty’s Government intends to investigate this event in and around Japan. “In fact,” says the security adviser, “our man in Hong Kong is working on it now” – a cue for the camera to cut to James Bond, in flagrante delicto with Ling, a Chinese lady. They have a rather saucy conversation – “darling, I give you very best duck” – and then she presses a button which makes the fold-down bed fold back up into the wall, with Bond trapped inside. She opens the door to her room and a couple of heavies with machine guns open fire on the wall, with Bond just behind the surface. When the police arrive, and draw back the bed, a lifeless Bond is still trapped between the blood-soaked sheets. “We’re too late,” says one policeman to his colleague. “Well, at least he died on the job” comes the knowing reply; “he’d have wanted it this way” says the other.
And then we’re into the credits, and the superb title theme, sung by Nancy Sinatra. Apparently, it was originally offered to father Frank, but he turned it down in favour of his daughter. She was the first non-British performer to sing a James Bond movie theme. Surprisingly, for an artist of her abilities, she was so nervous about recording the song that it took twenty-five different takes to complete it. As she said in an interview, she was intimidated by the fact that this was strong, serious singing as opposed to the funny and light-hearted recordings for which she had become famous. In the end, the final song version used in the film was made up of the best parts from each of those twenty-five recordings – a true patchwork. The song reached No 11 in the UK charts, but only 44 in the US. I’d contend that it’s one of the best three Bond themes ever – but you might not agree!
Visually, the opening credits are very appealing and intriguing. An abstract Japanese chrysanthemum design is used to suggest not only the traditions of Japan, but also the iris of an eye, or a parasol; interspersed with these images are the faces and bodies of sultry Japanese girls and the hot fiery spurting lava of a volcano. You can read whatever symbolism you like into all of this.
And the locations? This is an unusual Bond film in that it almost entirely takes place in one country – Japan. Only the opening sequence, of Bond’s faked death, takes place in Hong Kong. The majority of the filming took place in Japan too. The exceptions to this were the outside view of the summit conference being filmed in Alaska, Bond’s burial at sea on board the HMS Tenby was shot off Gibraltar, while his rescue from the sea bed was filmed in the Bahamas; and a few internal scenes were shot at Pinewood. The Osato Chemicals building was in fact the New Otani Hotel in Tokyo, and SPECTRE’s volcano lair was Mount Shinmoedake.
While scouting locations in Japan, the chief production team narrowly escaped death. On March 5, 1966, Albert R. Broccoli, Harry Saltzman, Lewis Gilbert, Freddie Young, and Ken Adam were booked to leave Japan on BOAC flight 911 departing Tokyo for Hong Kong and London. Two hours before their Boeing 707 flight departed, the team were invited to an unexpected ninja demonstration, and so missed their plane. Their flight took off as scheduled, but twenty-five minutes after take-off, the plane disintegrated over Mt. Fuji, killing everyone on board. The title You Only Live Twice must never have seemed so sinister.
Bond, James Bond. Again Connery doesn’t get to utter that iconic sentence in this film. In fact, on a personal level, this was a very unhappy film. Connery had been lured back to play the role again despite being tired of Bond and fearing being typecast. So, in addition to earning $800,000 as a fee, he also received 25% of the net merchandise royalty, which must have been one helluva lotta wonga. By all accounts he was his usual professional and generous performer on set. But he disliked all the media attention in Japan, where the films were more important to people than even their own families, and where he was constantly being papped. He was even photographed in a toilet, which displeased him significantly. He was also displeased by the marketing phrase “Sean Connery IS James Bond”, and offended the locals by stating in an interview that Japanese women weren’t attractive. During filming, Connery announced that this would be his last ever Bond film; however, Broccoli and Saltzman had other ideas. Nevertheless, it is said that the relationship between star and producers had broken down so badly that he refused to act if they were on the set.
Boo-boos. There are some continuity errors and mistakes as always – let’s have a look at some of them! When Bond’s apparently dead body is brought on board the submarine, from the depths of the ocean, the packaging that encloses it is surprisingly dry! When Osato and Brandt land on the helicopter landing pad to meet Bond (masquerading as Mr. Fischer), the helicopter lands across the top of the “H” on the pad, near the edge of the circle, and it is facing slightly to the left of the camera. However, in the next scene it has moved further inside the circle, facing in a different direction, alongside the H. Clever stuff! When Bond undertakes his transformation to become Japanese, he has his chest hair all shaved off. But when he and Kissy are in the life raft at the end of the movie, magically it has all returned. He’s not 007 for nothing!
When Bond is fighting Blofeld’s henchman Hans, Bond gets knocked over near the fireplace, and you can hear the sound of glass breaking. However, there are no glass objects anywhere him! When Aki is driving Bond to see Henderson, she’s sitting on the right side. As they approach Henderson’s residence, she’s on the left, but when the camera cuts to a close-up, she is back on the right again. Before Bond (disguised as a SPECTRE astronaut) is brought before Blofeld in the command room, the ‘Blofeld’ sitting in his chair has hair which can be seen briefly from the rear of the chair. However, when he introduces himself to Bond a moment later he is clearly bald – an error caused by using film of both actors playing Blofeld.
The Bond Girl. It’s become something of a familiar challenge that it’s not obvious from the start who exactly is The Bond Girl in any of the films. The Bond Girl in Thunderball is the fourth girl with whom he has some kind of encounter; and it’s the same here. James Bond’s lucky number sure is four!
First we see him with Ling, with whom he starts to say that “We’ve had some interesting times together Ling, I’ll be sorry to go” before she pushes the button and uprights the bed into the wall, with him in it. It’s impossible to say whilst you’re watching the film whether she’s an agent working against him (almost getting him murdered) or working with him (enabling the faking of his death) – the latter is in fact true. Whatever, their time together is all too short and sweet. Ling was played by Chinese born Tsai Chin, whose career spanned many decades and appearances as wide range as in The World of Suzie Wong, Flower Drum Song, The Virgin Soldiers, and a wide range of other television appearances. It is said that her popularity was such in the 60s that she had a leopard at London Zoo named after her! She was already friends with director Lewis Gilbert and his wife before the film was shot – it’s not what you know, it’s who you know, it’s who you know. She would return to the world of James Bond in the 2006 production of Casino Royale, where she played Madame Wu, a poker player. She’s been based in Hollywood for many years and is still working at the age of 85.
Next contender for the title of Bond Girl is Helga Brandt – ostensibly Osato’s secretary but really Number 11 in SPECTRE, so as she’s working for the other side, she could never be a Bond Girl, could she? She’s a ruthless mass of raw sexuality, with her strong auburn hair, dominatrix expression and sultry fashion sense. The things I do for England, says Bond, as he snips the straps on her evening dress with a surgeon’s knife. But she’s not quite mistress of her game, and Blofeld only accepts perfection, so she’s fiendishly eliminated, and the hungry piranhas are grateful. She was played by Karin Dor, who appeared in dozens of films, mainly in German, and lived partly in Munich and partly in the United States. She died in 2017 at the age of 79.
Then there’s Aki. Aki really should have been the Bond Girl because she’s gutsy but so sweet. She’s there at the Sumo, ready to introduce Bond to Henderson. She’s there to rescue Bond when he has to flee the Osato Building. She’s there to help him get advice from Tanaka and drive him to the Kobe docks. And she’s there in his bed whenever he wants. She even – albeit accidentally – provides him the ultimate service by ingesting the poison that was meant for him. Who could do more? Aki was played by Akiko Wakabayashi, who specifically asked if the character’s name could be changed to Aki (in other words, her own name) rather than Suki, as originally intended. She appeared in a number of Japanese films in the late 50s and early 60s, but only one more after You Only Live Twice, when she retired to have a family. She’s now 77 and still living in Japan.
But I guess the accolade of Bond Girl in this film must go to Kissy Suzuki, played by Mie Hama. Kissy is a Ninja Agent, working for Bond’s Japanese colleague Tanaka; she marries Bond in order to create for him a convincing Japanese cover. But when it comes to honeymoon night, she confirms that the relationship is strictly business and he has to sleep in a corner. However, she dutifully assists Bond in his attack on SPECTRE’s lair, and, of course, it’s she who is rescued with him in a life-raft in what appears to be the same closing scene of almost every Bond movie. Mie Hama was working as a bus conductor when she was discovered by film producer Tomoyuki Tanaka, most famous for having created Godzilla. She had already appeared in about sixty Japanese movies by the time she worked on You Only Live Twice. Originally she was hired to play Aki (or, rather, Suki) but she had difficulty with the English words and so the two actresses swapped roles – as Kissy had fewer lines than Aki. Mie Hama retired from films in 1989 and since has had a varied career as a writer, TV and radio host, and art connoisseur. She’s 75 now and still going strong.
What Bond Girls Are Like. From the first four films, our list of attributes common to the Bond Girls was: 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 and vengeful. Kissy doesn’t really comply with many of these attributes; the Japanese tradition makes her a more demure, graceful and moral person. Mie Hama, however, was perhaps less demure when she appeared in Playboy in a 1967 nude pictorial “007’s Oriental Eyefuls” as the first Asian woman to appear in the magazine.
The Villain. You Only Live Twice is our first opportunity finally to meet the one and only Blofeld. Disfigured and measured of speech, he disarmingly strokes his pussy whilst ordering the death both of his enemies and those working for him who have let him down. Blofeld survives at the end of the film – he’s the first Bond villain to do so – and he will go on to make five more appearances in subsequent Bond films. But this is the only film in which he is played by Donald Pleasence. Originally, he was to have been played by Czech actor Jan Werich, who does appear in the film with his back to the audience – his tufts of hair appearing to the camera, whilst Donald Pleasence’s Blofeld is totally bald. But Werich’s characterisation of Blofeld was considered insufficiently menacing. Pleasence was said to have found the make-up for Blofeld incredibly uncomfortable, but, then, you have to suffer for your art. He was one of our finest film actors, having made more than a hundred movies, and he died in 1995 at the age of 75. Other memorable characters? Australian Intelligence agent Dikko Henderson – played by Charles Gray – is not exactly a memorable character, because he doesn’t hang around long enough for us to get interested in him. He does, however, have a very memorable death; stabbed in the back whilst standing in front of one of those Japanese paper-thin screen walls. Charles Gray would go on to play Blofeld in Diamonds are Forever, as well as many other notable film and TV roles.
Teru Shimada gives an excellent, understated, performance as Osato, the industrialist who’s secretly a SPECTRE agent; suitably inscrutable, on the surface dignified and urbane, whilst underneath, happy to be an assassin. Osato’s simple instruction “kill him” as Bond is leaving his offices is amusingly terse! Teru Shimada was a Japanese-American actor who first appeared in films in the early 1930s and carried on working until 1975. He died in Los Angeles in 1988, aged 82.
Tiger Tanaka is the head of the Japanese Secret Service, living secretly underground in Tokyo, with his own train network, his own team of ninjas, and he plays a very active part in assisting Bond in the attack on the SPECTRE volcano lair. He is supremely authoritative – and you’d say was one of the most powerful people in the country. He was played by Tetsuro Tamba, who appeared in around a hundred films between 1952 and his death in 2006 at the age of 84. His voice was dubbed by Robert Rietti, who had also dubbed Adolfo Celi’s voice as Emilio Largo in Thunderball.
No Felix Leiter this time – he’ll return in Diamonds are Forever – but Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell and Desmond Llewelyn reprise their usual roles as M, Moneypenny and Q. This time, M and Moneypenny aren’t in their London office but on board one of Her Majesty’s submarines; but M is his usual, no-nonsense self, and Moneypenny is only too happy to prevent Bond’s lingering romance with Kissy from taking hold. The relationship between Q and Bond continues to be fractious, although Q’s latest gadgets for use on the autogyro certainly save Bond’s life.
And what about the music? The film starts, as usual, with the main James Bond Theme, written by Monty Norman; after that, it’s all John Barry, although the lyrics to the title song, You Only Live Twice are by John Barry and Leslie Bricusse. As I mentioned earlier, it’s a cracker of a song, and its legacy lives on in such examples as Robbie Williams’ Millennium. An earlier version was sung by Julie Rogers, who expected it to be used in the film, but the producers said it was just a demo – much to Ms Rogers’ disappointment, no doubt.
Parts of the soundtrack that I particularly enjoyed included the classic, percussion-heavy theme that always accompanies a car chase; this time we also hear it when Little Nellie goes up. There’s an excellent, fast, brassy version of You Only Live Twice whilst they’re capering around Kobe Docks. Early in the film when Bond arrives in Tokyo, there’s a charming variation on the You Only Live Twice theme, softly played with some gently twanging guitars in the background. And there’s the gentle, romantic accompaniment to the wedding scene.
Car chases. There’s just the one car chase; when Aki rescues Bond from being shot by Osato’s henchmen, driving her Toyota 2000GT and they are chased by the wannabe killers. Unusually, Bond doesn’t drive a car in this film. Amusingly, nor does Aki; Akiko Wakabayashi hadn’t learned how to drive, so six stuntmen created the illusion of her driving, by attaching a cable, and pulling it from outside of the frame. Stuntmen also substituted for her in long camera shots by wearing black wigs.
Cocktails and Casinos. Henderson says to Bond when offering a drink “Stirred, not shaken. That was right, wasn’t it?” Bond then replies: “Perfect”, and you can just hear a tinge of disappointment in his voice. Of course, Bond usually drinks his Vodka Martinis shaken, not stirred, so this was an error. But Lewis Gilbert decided to keep it in; and it shows Bond’s generosity of spirit when someone he meets for the first time gets it wrong, but he wants to be on good terms with him. Apart from that, Bond grimaces at the taste of Siamese vodka, delights at sake if it’s served at 98.4 degrees Fahrenheit and allows himself to be won over by the offer of a Dom Perignon ’59. Casinos don’t feature in this Bond movie.
Gadgets. Bond uses a cute little safe-breaker when he’s stealing the papers from the Osato offices; apart from that Tanaka is proud to show him the cigarette gun, which is a nifty little wheeze, and Q reveals the additional extras that have been fitted on to Little Nellie, the autogyro; two machine guns, rocket launchers and heat seeking air to air missiles, two flame guns and smoke ejectors, aerial mines and a cine camera in the helmet. I think that sums it up! Other than that, there are perhaps somewhat fewer gadgets in this film than we’ve been spoilt with on previous occasions? Does Q need to go back to college?
In Memoriam. 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; Goldfinger came in at a more modest 23-ish, plus everyone who died at Fort Knox; and Thunderball offers up around 50 people – plus a shark. How about You Only Live Twice? Let’s briefly remember those who gave their lives so that Bond and Kissy can get nudged into safety by the surprise appearance of a submarine:
1) Dikko Henderson – stabbed, like Polonius, through the arras
2) Henderson’s killer, knifed by Bond
3) Henchman who drove Bond to the Osato office – brained by an ancient Japanese sculpture in a fight with Bond
4) Guard in the Osato carpark, shot by Bond
5) The woman who took the photo of the Ning-Po ship (even though we never met her, RIP)
6) 4 henchmen in a car that gets lifted off the road surface by a helicopter with a huge magnet and then gets dropped into the sea – presumably all four drown
7) Somewhere between 3 and 6 men attacked at Kobe Docks
8) 4 helicopter pilots, individually killed by Bond in the autogyro, using the various gadgets that Q had supplied.
9) Helga – dipped into the piranha pool by Blofeld.
10) The poisoner who kills Aki – shot by Bond
11) Aki – killed by the poisoner.
12) The ninja who tries to bayonet Bond – bayonetted by Bond.
13) The girl in the boat that Kissy sees before and after death (again RIP in absentia)
14) The man in red working in SPECTRE’s lair.
15) Everyone else who dies in the crater.
17) One last henchman.
That’s maybe something in the region of 40 people. Humour to off-set the death count. Following Bond’s classic asides whenever someone dies in the previous movies, here are some more gems to accompany those bereft of life to the great yonder:
After the four car-bound henchmen are drowned at sea, Bond quips “A drop in the ocean.”
Of the four helicopter pilots who try to gun down Bond and Little Nellie, he says: “Four big shots made improper advances towards her but she defended her honour with great success.”
When henchman Hans gets piranha’d he adds “Bon appetit.”
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. As usual, I couldn’t perceive any obvious homophobic elements, but I wasn’t quite sure what to make of Bond changing his appearance to look Japanese. If that had happened on Broadway or the West End today we would call it “yellowface”. However, in those days, I don’t think the same sensibilities applied, and it’s not as though Bond is doing it in any way to make fun of or discriminate against his Japanese colleagues – it’s purely to make it easier to infiltrate the volcano lair.
However, as usual, when it comes to sexism, where do you start? Let’s check that definition of sexism again, so that we know where we’re at. Sexism is: “(Behaviour, language, etc, reflecting) the assumption that one sex, esp. the female, is inferior to the other; prejudice or discrimination, esp. against women, on the grounds of sex; insistence on (esp. a woman’s) conformity to a sexually stereotyped social role.”
Bond’s first line in the film is “why do Chinese girls taste different from all other girls?” which caused a big intake of breath in our household when we watched it again recently. I can’t quite put my finger on why this line made us feel so uneasy, but it did. Another line, that is distinctly sexist, is Tanaka’s decree that “in Japan, men always come first; women come second”. He and Bond then use four girls for massage and whatever else they might like, without the girls having any say in the matter. They are purely a commodity; and they spend the entire time sitting around in – not even bikinis – but bra and panties.
As does poor Kissy Suzuki, who has to clamber up and down a volcano edge in just her underwear. It’s purely for titillation, purely to show which gender calls all the shots and which gender abides by those rules. No wonder things have changed nowadays. However, Japan in the 1960s was not a liberated environment for women, and, although today this treatment of women feels very uncomfortable, for the time this was a fairly accurate assessment of women’s role in Japanese society.
When Osato criticises Bond for smoking, saying it is unhealthy for the chest, Helga passes him the drink with the line “Mr Osato believes in a healthy chest” – to which Bond simply replies, “really?”
Bizarre other stuff that occurred to me and a few observations.
Although Thunderball’s plot is satirised in Austin Powers, Donald Pleasence is definitely the inspiration for Dr. Evil.
This is the first Bond film where I have really noticed the beautiful cinematography. There are some amazing sunsets, and the overwhelming sense of natural Japanese tranquillity comes through strongly in many scenes. There’s also the wonderful aerial shot of Bond on the roof of the docks building, punching his way through a number of pursuing henchmen. It’s a very arresting shot.
With all that CCTV going on, how come Blofeld and the gang don’t realise that Bond, Tanaka and Kissy are clambering about on their roof?
Inevitably, I guess, much of the content of this film is very much in the spirit of the time. Space travel was so cool in those days, so exciting; everyone was a mini-expert on spaceships; many TV series were based in space or had the possibility of “other life” as a subject. This was before any moon landings had actually taken place, so the competition between America and the Soviet Union to be the first was red hot. When the Americans say they’ve got another spacecraft going up in twenty days’ time, you realise that, in those days, spaceships were almost like buses. Miss one, another will be along shortly.
Look how terrified the poor cat is, whilst bombs are going off all round! Apparently, it went missing for two days and would never go on a film set again. Verging on animal cruelty, I’d say.
Awards: Ken Adam was nominated for the BAFTA for Best British Art Direction (Colour), but the award went to John Box for his work on A Man for All Seasons.
To sum up. Perhaps surprisingly, this was the first time that the box office takings for a Bond movie were less than for the previous film – so from that perspective, you might consider it failed, albeit slightly. However, in my humble opinion, this is the most entertaining James Bond film so far in the canon. The evilest villain, all kinds of Bond Girls, some witty one-liners, and a lot of engrossing (rather than tedious) action. I’d be fascinated to hear your opinions of You Only Live Twice – and whether you agree with me! Next up is the first Bond film that I saw at the cinema, when I was a nipper – On Her Majesty’s Secret Service; and a change of Bond, as George Lazenby takes the stage.
My rating: 5 Sparkles
All photos from the film of course belong to their various copyright holders.
In which Sir James Bond is coaxed out of retirement after M has been assassinated (by himself) and Agent Mimi has taken the place of M’s widow and fallen in love with Bond’s robust strength and physical magnificence. In order to defeat SMERSH, all British agents take on the name James Bond, but the real Bond finally meets his love child from his relationship with superspy Mata Hari (Mata Bond), and, with assistance from more Bond girls than you can shake a stick at, overthrows the evil plans of Dr Noah, before each and every one of them dies in a massive conflagration. And to think that some of the actors involved in this film actually thought it was going to be serious.
But no. This is the spoof Casino Royale, and not to be confused with the Eon Casino Royale that hit the screens in 2006. Back in 1955, Ian Fleming sold the film rights to producer Gregory Ratoff, but Ratoff failed to secure the funding before he died in 1960. Charles K Feldman then obtained the rights from Ratoff’s widow. Cubby Broccoli offered to buy the rights from him, but Feldman refused, as he had plans to make the film, with Howard Hawks directing and starring Cary Grant as Bond. But with the great success of Dr No, Feldman realised he couldn’t compete with the Eon/Connery/Broccoli/Saltzman team and had to think again. In 1964 further negotiations were underway with Eon Productions to make the film but personal disagreements between the producers made things difficult and, anyway, Connery was looking for a million dollars to make the film – which was outside Feldman’s budget. Eventually Feldman offered it to Columbia, and, as the Bond movies had made the whole idea of spy films popular, decided to make it as a satirical, comedy spoof.
The screenplay was to be written by Ben Hecht, of Scarface and The Front Page fame. However, he died two days before his final version was ready to be presented to Feldman. It was subsequently re-written by Billy Wilder, and then re-worked by the credited writers, Wolf Mankowitz, John Law and Michael Sayers. In addition, and for reasons that will become clear, it is said that Peter Sellers commissioned Terry Southern (with whom he had worked on Dr Strangelove) to re-write all the scenes in which Sellers appeared. So, clearly, the script went through several hands before achieving its final version. If that wasn’t confusing enough, the film eventually benefited (if that’s the word) from having no fewer than six directors. Val Guest directed the scenes with Woody Allen and David Niven, and was in charge of stitching the whole thing together at the end. Kenneth Hughes directed the Berlin scenes, John Huston directed the early scenes at Bond’s mansion and the Scottish castle, Joseph McGrath directed the scenes with Peter Sellers, Orson Welles and Ursula Andress, Robert Parrish directed other scenes with Sellers and Welles, and finally, Richard Talmadge, with his speciality in stunt work, directed the final scenes at the casino. Too many cooks? If you watch the film and think it’s unconnected, episodic, bitty and completely out of control, that’s why.
It doesn’t stop there though. Peter Sellers and Orson Welles had a huge on-set falling-out, primarily because Princess Margaret (a friend of Sellers) visited the set and Sellers expected to bathe in her glamour and attention; however, by all accounts she cut Sellers and spent the whole time fangirling Welles. Not for the first time, nor the last, Sellers stomped off the set. That’s why he engaged Terry Southern to write his lines, in order to get the better of Welles and make himself look more important. Sellers refused to be in Welles’ presence, so their baccarat game scenes were filmed separately, with a double standing in for Sellers. There are two versions of the following tale; one is that, eventually, Sellers walked off the set, never to return; the other is that he was fired by Val Guest before the end of filming for being so unreasonable. Either way, it left a whole number of unresolved plot lines hanging, requiring some imaginative deep thinking from the directors as to what to do. No wonder the end of the film just feels like a mindless mish-mash of ideas and lines.
Casino Royale’s original budget was a relatively modest $6 million, but after the rewrites, the stormings-out and all the other tensions and costs, the eventual cost to make it more than doubled to over $12 million. That made it unquestionably the most expensive Bond movie at the time. Its box office take of $41.7 million was nothing like as much as the regular Eon Production films – but at least it was still a profit. Apparently, there was a lot of wastage. Woody Allen spoke of being brought over from America way ahead of when he was required on set, spending weeks in luxury hotels totally needlessly; although, whilst he was waiting, it did give him the time to write the screenplay for Take the Money and Run. And, despite his leaving the production in the lurch a few times, Peter Sellers had negotiated a resounding 3% of gross profits. That’s quite some fee.
The book of Casino Royale was published in 1953 and was the first in Ian Fleming’s series of James Bond novels. There’s very little crossover between the content of the book and this film. In the book, Bond plays baccarat with SMERSH agent Le Chiffre in order to deprive the enemy of funds. Eventually, with a little help from Felix Leiter, he wins, and Le Chiffre is murdered by one of his own agents. Bond and his Soviet assistant Vesper Lynd become lovers; but she takes her own life when it’s revealed she’s a Russian double agent. In the film, of course, it’s Evelyn Tremble who plays baccarat with Le Chiffre, and it’s Tremble with whom Vesper becomes enamoured. Leiter doesn’t appear in the film – and all the other film characters don’t appear in the book!
Despite its very obvious failings, I have a very soft spot for this film. It was one of the first times that I was taken to the cinema as a child – I would have been seven or eight – and of course most of it would have gone completely over my head. However, I do remember laughing at some of the slapstick elements – particularly the out of control milk van. And I absolutely loved the score – more of which later.
Most of the critics at the time weren’t impressed. The Chicago Sun-Times said “this is possibly the most indulgent film ever made”; Variety said it was “a conglomeration of frenzied situations, ‘in’ gags and special effects, lacking discipline and cohesion”, and the New York Times called the ending “reckless, disconnected nonsense”. With the benefit of hindsight, some of today’s commentators have been a little kinder. Cinema historian Robert von Dassanowsky said “like Casablanca, Casino Royale is a film of momentary vision, collaboration, adaption, pastiche, and accident. It is the anti-auteur work of all time, a film shaped by the very zeitgeist it took on.” AllMovie called it “the original ultimate spy spoof”, and “a satire to the highest degree”. My own personal opinion is that it is crammed with excess, a delightful sense of parody, some extremely funny scenes and lines, and it’s 60s Retro of the highest order. Sadly, nothing can cover up its immensely manic, tedious and stupid ending, but you can’t have everything.
As this is nothing to do with the Eon Production films, don’t expect the opening credits to begin with Maurice Binder’s iconic glimpse of Bond walking across the screen. This is pure parody, so we start with a saucy visual joke. Bond – as played by Peter Sellers – meets Mathis of the Special Police in a Parisian pissoir. We can only see them from the chest up. “These are my credentials”, says Mathis, as Bond gazes down towards his nether regions. “They appear to be in order” replies Bond. And it’s straight into the opening titles and the magnificent Casino Royale theme, written by Burt Bacharach and performed by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass.
The titles feature the names of the lead performers with an embellished (and animated) capital letter at the beginning of their first name – rather like one might see in a lavish old book. However, the animation that we can see inside the letter shows many of the characters strumming on a heavenly lyre – so we know, before it starts, that they die! Peter Sellers, of course, gets top billing, followed by Ursula Andress and David Niven; so, interestingly, James Bond is given third billing in this film. The anarchic animation of the opening credits is pure swinging sixties.
And the locations? Unlike the other Bond films so far, this is a very British-based story. The scenes depicting Trafalgar Square and 10 Downing Street were indeed shot at those esteemed locations. Sir James Bond’s stately pile was filmed at Mereworth Castle in Kent, M’s Scottish castle was filmed at Killeen Castle in Co Meath, in Ireland; other scenes were shot in Killin in Perthshire and Windsor in Berkshire. In the book, the Casino Royale itself is located in the fictional French town of Royale-les-Eaux. However, I can only presume that the casino in the film was on the set of Pinewood, Shepperton or Twickenham Studios, where the majority of the film was shot.
Bond, James Bond. David Niven has a damn good stab at creating what James Bond might have become in retirement (tongue firmly in cheek, of course). Prudish, dedicated to Debussy, and with a disconcerting stammer, all that womanising is way behind him now, and he loves to live a comfortable but reclusive life, with lions on his front drive and a black rose in his garden. Once he’s back in the saddle as head of MI6, he’s self-assured, debonair and really quite mischievous. I haven’t really seen David Niven in many films, but I think he’s terrific in this. He was, of course, a much lauded and experienced actor, having appeared in almost one hundred films between 1932 and his death in 1983. His two volumes of autobiography, The Moon’s a Balloon, and Bring on the Empty Horses were massively successful, and he was something of a war hero too, joining the army on the day the Second World War started, attaining the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.
Boo-boos. Continuity errors and mistakes don’t feel quite so important in an anarchic comedy like this, but there are a few moments worth noting. In the scene where Le Chiffre, who is obsessed with magic, levitates a woman over the baccarat table, you can actually see the steel bar that’s holding her up; and when M’s widow enters Bond’s bedroom, you can see the reflection of the cameraman in a mirror on the wall. When the remotely operated milk van is chugging its merry way around the roads of Berkshire, in one scene it swerves and loses half its milk crates into the street; seconds later, it’s fully laden again. Maybe Le Chiffre was working his magic.
The Bond Girl.If it’s a Bond film, it’s got to have a Bond girl, right? This one, as befits its excessive status, has at least four. Agent Mimi is first up – she’s a SMERSH agent pretending to be M’s widow, the Lady Fiona McTarry. She’s desperate to seduce and discredit the very upright Bond – and encourages all M’s “daughters” (eleven of them, aged between 16 and 19 – we are on very shaky ground here) to do the same. But when she sees how successfully Bond “pays the piper” by handling those cannonballs, she can’t hide her genuine love for the man. Superbe! Formidable! Splendide! Bravo! Magnifique!!!! she moans. Agent Mimi was played by Deborah Kerr, a fine, experienced actress, best known for her appearances in The King and I, and on stage in many plays.
Then there’s Mata Bond, his estranged daughter following an intimate liaison with the famous spy Mata Hari. She’s full of spirit but a bit annoyed with him for being an absentee father. But she’s up for a fine piece of espionage as she’s driven to Berlin to infiltrate International Mothers’ Help, an au pair service that is a cover for a SMERSH training centre. Later, she’s captured in a giant flying saucer – it happens; and it’s while on their mission to rescue her that the Bonds all get trapped in the Casino Royale. Mata was played by Joanna Pettet, whose film career started promisingly with a number of good roles in the 1960s, and then she migrated to small roles in dozens of TV series.
Another Bond Girl that Bond really oughtn’t to be attracted by is Miss Moneypenny – in fact, she’s Miss Moneypenny’s daughter, and we probably oughtn’t to ask who her father is. Unlike the traditional Moneypenny, this one’s more prepared to get her hands dirty out in the field. Her finest hour is when she samples all the contenders for a new Bond to be trained to resist the attractions of women; as I say, getting dirty in the field. Moneypenny was played by Barbara Bouchet, who has appeared in dozens of films, mainly in Italy, and who branched out into fitness books and videos and still has a successful fitness studio in Rome.
Certainly not to go unmentioned is The Detainer; the British spy who tricks Dr Noah into taking his own atomic pill. She’s not really a Bond Girl though – because she hardly has anything to do with Bond. She was played by Daliah Lavi, an Israeli actress, singer and model, who appeared in a few films and also found fame as a Schlager singer in Germany. She died in 2017 at the age of 74. Also not to go unmentioned, and also not a Bond Girl, is Miss Goodthighs. She’s a SMERSH agent who attempts to kill Evelyn Tremble at the Casino; so as she’s not working with Bond, but working against him, she’s a baddie. She was played by Jacqueline Bisset, whose film career hasn’t stopped since she appeared in her first movie in 1965.
But we definitely have to include Ursula Andress as Vesper Lynd. Ms Andress, of course, played Honey Ryder in Dr No, and so was already a Bond Girl before Casino Royale came along. Vesper Lynd has been tempted back into espionage in return for writing off her tax arrears. She approaches Evelyn Tremble to get him to play baccarat against Le Chiffre (almost a part of the original novel emerging there!) Whilst she and Tremble have a definite dalliance, at the end she betrays him because she is a double agent after all. But, anyway, everyone dies, so what’s the difference?
The Villain. Dr Noah – no real clue necessary to guess where his name came from – has a plan to use biological warfare to make all women beautiful and kill all men over 4 foot 6 inches tall. Much to everyone’s dismay, Dr Noah turns out to be little Jimmy Bond, James’ nephew, who cannot speak in his presence because he’s so overawed. But he is hoist by his own petard when he’s tricked into swallowing his own atomic pill – which causes the grand explosion at Casino Royale and the subsequent death of all and sundry. He was played by Woody Allen, who needs no introduction in the world of cinema. It is said, though, that he was so aghast at the awful management of this film – the on-set arguments, the wasted time, the six directors, and so on – that he vowed never to let anyone else direct a film that he was involved in. So it did contribute something significant to the world of cinema!
Other memorable characters? Casino Royale is so full of tiny roles played by significant actors, that, to be honest, I don’t know where to begin? I suppose first up must be Orson Welles’ Le Chiffre, the SMERSH agent who loves his baccarat not quite as much as his magic. Orson Welles, of course, had an extraordinary career in all the arts – and I believe the feelings between him and Peter Sellers were mutual.
Ah yes, Peter Sellers, who played Evelyn Tremble. A man of amazing talent, and some (obviously) difficult problems. He punched director Joseph McGrath who said he would never work with him again. Some of the frustration in making the film must have come from the fact that Sellers thought this was going to be a relatively straight film, and that he would take a relatively straight and serious role. This was never going to happen.
I doubt if I’ll name all the significant performers in this film. Peter O’Toole, Jean-Paul Belmondo (at the time, Ursula Andress’ other half) and George Raft all make brief cameo appearances with a couple of lines at the most. Racing Driver Stirling Moss doesn’t say a word, nor does M’s driver, John le Mesurier. Flavour of the month at the time, Anna Quayle is a terrifying Frau Hoffner, accompanied by the battery-driven, sex-mad Polo played by Ronnie Corbett. John Huston directed himself playing M; Charles Boyer and William Holden are the other two Intelligence Men in the opening scene. Bernard Cribbins drives a taxi all the way to Berlin; Derek Nimmo is Bond’s new office assistant, Hadley; Geoffrey Bayldon (aka Catweazle) is Q, with John Wells as his simpering assistant, Fordyce. Alexandra Bastedo, she of The Champions, features as M’s “daughter” Meg. Richard Wattis is the British Army officer present at the auction that was to be chaired by Vladek Sheybal (Kronsteen in From Russia with Love). The list goes on, but I’ll stop there.
And what about the music? Now we’re talking. Burt Bacharach’s soundtrack is a sheer joy throughout – and the CD has long been one of my favourite Easy Listening collections. Herb Albert and the Tijuana Brass’ rendition of the main theme was a smash hit single, reaching No 1 in the United States, although only No 27 in the UK. Dusty Springfield’s exquisite performance of The Look of Love, whilst never a single success by itself, remains one of her finest recordings and it’s impossible to hear it without all your extremities tingling with joy. The remainder of the incidental music is full of hilarious motifs, sexy arrangements, period pastiches and sheer musical madness. Although they’re not on the soundtrack album, it’s also fun to hear the musical salutes in the film – a brief snatch of Born Free (written by regular Bond composer John Barry) when M is driving past Bond’s lions; a moment from the theme to Moulin Rouge when Peter Sellers’ Evelyn Tremble is pretending to be Toulouse-Lautrec; even the echo of What’s New Pussycat emerging from a manhole cover, a 1965 film which had previously united the talents of Sellers, Allen, O’Toole, Andress, Bacharach and producer Charles Feldman.
There are plenty of opportunities for comedy from the complicated and unlikely gadgets in use – the scene with Q and his assistant is a perfect parody of all those genuine Bond scenes, where army types are trying out the new gadgets, some with greater success than others. And as Sir James points out, early in the film, as he’s discrediting his guests with their feeble spy accoutrements: “You, Ransome, with your trick carnation that spits cyanide. You ought to be ashamed. And you, Smernov, with an armoury concealed in your grotesque boots. Listen to them tinkle. And you, Le Grand, with a different deadly poison in each of your fly buttons. And you, M, with your flame-throwing fountain pens. You’re joke-shop spies, gentlemen.” However, I do like the magnetic buttons that attract the artificial grouse with their built-in machine guns. Very clever.
There’s no point examining the death count on this film as it’s all pure pantomime, everyone dies and, in a sense, no one dies, as we see them in Heaven. However, I do want to share with you some of my favourite lines from the film.
“I present you with the levitation of the Princess Ayisha, an illusion taught to me by an ancient vegetarian in the mountain fastnesses of Tibet.”
“It’s the first john I’ve ever gone around with.”
“Which side do you dress, sir?” “I usually dress away from the window”.
“Listen. You can’t shoot me. I have a very low threshold of death. My doctor says I can’t have bullets enter my body at any time. What if I said I was pregnant?”
“I’m the new secret weapon. I’ve just been perfected.” “Yes, haven’t you?” “They’ve kept me under wraps.” “Lucky them.” “What do you do that’s so secret?” “I don’t do anything. But unless you’re one of them, you do […] You’re really learning to put up quite a resistance.” “It goes against my nature.” “I sense that too. What are you doing after the exercise?” “Getting my head examined.”
“Call me Coop.” “Like something for keeping birds.” “That’s me.”
“What a charming outfit that is. Do you often wear that in the office?” “If I wore it in the street, people might stare.”
“Just how personal is a toupee?” “It can only be regarded as a “hairloom”.
Iffy Material: There’s no doubt that there’s quite a lot of material that has dated badly in a post-Operation Yewtree world. A man of David Niven’s age getting into the bath with a girl of (allegedly) 17 years makes one feel a little squeamish today. And consider this conversation between Agent Mimi masquerading as Lady Fiona and James Bond, describing a portrait hanging on the wall: “To your right, Sir James – Lady Mary, daughter of Lord Douglas McTarry, raped by the Campbells in 1662, in retaliation of which, Lord Douglas sent his only son Hamish out to rape twa Campbell lassies.” “At the same time?” “Eldest first, of course. As prescribed by scripture.” It has an Ortonesque naughtiness to it, but it’s really not acceptable in this day and age.
Awards:The Look of Love was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song, losing to Talk to the Animals from Doctor Dolittle. Burt Bacharach’s score also earned a Grammy Award nomination for Best Original Score Written for a Motion Picture or Television Show. Julie Harris was nominated for the BAFTA Award for Best Costume Design. To sum up: In so many ways, this film is a complete oddity; one of those star-strangled indulgences that no doubt looked great on paper but had a lot of difficulty reaching the screen. For me it has some serious highlights but also a lot of longueurs; but it’s part of my childhood and I love it for that. I’d be fascinated to hear your opinions of Casino Royale – and whether you agree with me! Please leave a comment below. Next, we’re going to be returning to the classic Bond films and You Only Live Twice, released just two months after Casino Royale. I’m sure the diehard fans couldn’t wait!
My rating: 4 Sparkles
All photos from the film of course belong to their various copyright holders.
In which SPECTRE plan to extort £100 million in diamonds (that’s £1.35 billion in today’s money, so it’s a lot of cash) or else two atomic bombs will be dropped on either a major US or English city – later revealed to be Miami. M and his team can’t allow that to happen, so Bond is sent to the Bahamas, where he eventually finds the hidden bombs, kills a lot of SPECTRE’s henchmen underwater and the world is saved. Good man, Bond!
As the films got grander and longer, so did the budgets continue to increase. The budget for Thunderball was $9 million – three times that of Goldfinger – but with an overall box office take of an estimated $141 million, this was a wise investment. In the original plan, Thunderball was meant to be the first film in the series, but an extended legal wrangle made this impossible; a compromise was eventually reached that credited Kevin McClory (who had always claimed he had co-written the story of Thunderball with Jack Whittingham) as Producer of the movie, with Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman named as Executive Producers. Along with the return of Richard Maibaum as screenwriter, alongside John Hopkins, this makes for quite convoluted opening credits!
Guy Hamilton, who had directed Goldfinger, was asked back, but he was too “Bonded Out” to feel the necessary creativity, so he next went on to direct Oliver Reed in The Party’s Over. As a result, Terence Young returned to the job, having already directed Dr No and From Russia With Love. This would be his final Bond film. Once again, the cinematography was by Ted Moore, with Peter Hunt as supervising film editor (film editing credited to Ernest Hosler), and production design by Ken Adam. John Barry was, of course, again responsible for the music, all apart from Monty Norman’s James Bond Theme. Bob Simmons was the stunt choreographer and puts in an amazing performance as Mme Bouvar (not) getting thwacked to a pulp by Bond in the pre-titles scene.
Thunderball was published in 1961 and was the ninth in Ian Fleming’s series of James Bond novels. As outlined earlier, it was written as a collaboration between Fleming, Kevin McClory, Jack Whittingham, Ivar Bryce and Ernest Cuneo, as a novelisation of an earlier, unused film screenplay. As a result, it’s unsurprising that the film and the book tell very much the same story, with only a few minor changes. As an aside, this wasn’t the only film to be made from the Thunderball novel – 1983’s Never Say Never Again, which was Sean Connery’s Bond swansong, also follows the plot of this book. But that’s a matter for another time!
In the novel, it is explained that M has sent Bond off to the health farm, Shrublands, because he was getting unfit through drinking and smoking too much; but the film just places Bond in the health farm without explanation. The character of Fiona doesn’t appear in the novel, and Emilio Largo is described as SPECTRE’s No 1, because the identity of No 1 kept changing for security reasons. In the film he is No 2, only Blofeld could hold that honour. Fleming liked to borrow his real-life experiences and use the names of people he knew, or knew of, throughout his stories; Blofeld is named after Tom Blofeld who was a contemporary of Fleming’s at Eton and whose son is Henry Blofeld of cricketing fame.
Thinking back, and remembering how I saw From Russia with Love, Diamonds are Forever, Goldfinger and You Only Live Twice in double-bills at the Odeon Aylesbury with my schoolfriend John, I am pretty sure that I hadn’t seen Thunderball before. It’s amazing how such a well-known film can completely escape one’s attention. Still, better late than never.
Both book and novel received generally favourable reviews. Of the novel, the Guardian wrote: “it is a good, tough, straightforward thriller on perfectly conventional lines”; and the Financial Times called it: “an exciting story skilfully told”, with “a romantic sub-plot […] and the denouement involves great events.” Of the film, the Financial Times regretted the fact that there was much less attempt made at establishing Bond as a “connoisseur playboy”. I find myself agreeing with American film critic Danny Peary, when he said “it takes forever to get started and has too many long underwater sequences during which it’s impossible to tell what’s going on”. My own reaction to the film is that it’s as though they went and bought some underwater cameras and were going to absolutely get their money’s worth.
The opening credits appear unchanged, 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. However, because this movie was filmed in widescreen Panavision, it had to be re-shot; so this is the first time that the actor playing Bond appears in the opening credits – stunt man Bob Simmons had featured in these credits in the first three films. As usual, we are taken straight into the opening scene. We witness Bond at the funeral of one Colonel Jacques Bouvar, SPECTRE’s No 6, where his widow is mourning in the grand tradition of black veils and garments. Bond, however, isn’t satisfied, and when she gets back to her grand house, she locks herself into a sumptuous room only to discover Bond is there waiting for her. She turns out to be a he; Bouvar himself has faked his death, and there follows a thoroughly extravagant fight scene between the two – Bond, cool calm and collected, Bouvar in high heels and stockings.
Eventually Bouvar is overpowered and slung into the fireplace to die, a contemptuous bunch of tulips being chucked over his head by Bond as an afterthought. Bond flees to the rooftops to make his escape, but he is followed by SPECTRE henchmen, and just when you think he’s going to get caught – up he flies into the air wearing a jetpack, safely landing beside his Aston Martin DB5 and colleague from the French service, Madame La Porte. The bullet shield emerges from the back of the Aston, and emits a water cannon to keep the henchmen at bay.
Once again our first sight of Bond shows him doing all those things he does best. Looking cool, fighting and killing ruthlessly, being up to date with all the best gadgets. We instantly move into the rest of the title sequence. Getting a little more daring year by year, these credits feature naked bodies for the first time, which Maurice Binder filmed, originally, in black and white. As they swim, silhouetted, Binder created a vibrant colour backdrop of reds, blues, greens and purples, and it’s a very attractive and arresting sequence. This is also our opportunity to hear the title song, Thunderball, sung by Tom Jones. In comparison to its two predecessors, this is, imho, quite an underpowered and forgettable song, which certainly made no impact on me as I was watching it. I note the single only made No 35 in the UK chart. Allegedly, Tom Jones fainted in an attempt to maintain the last big note of the song. Not sure it was worth it.
And the locations? The film takes us from Paris, back to the UK, and eventually on the Bahamas. Bond’s opening-scene fight with Bouvar was filmed at the Château d’Anet, near Dreux, in North-West France; I recognised a pub in Beaconsfield as the site of the hotel where Derval was killed by Angelo. Shrublands Health Spa scenes were shot at Chalfont Park House, near Chalfont St Peter. The car chase between Bond, Lippe and Fiona was filmed at Silverstone Racing Circuit in Northamptonshire; Largo’s grand estate, Palmyra, was filmed at the exclusive Rock Point home of a Philadelphia millionaire family, the Sullivans, who liked to watch the filming and used to have friends over for drinks who mixed with the cast and crew when not working. Other elegant locations included the Café Martinique and the Coral Harbour Hotel in Nassau. The climactic underwater battle was shot at Clifton Pier, Nassau, and was choreographed by Ricou Browning, famous for his underwater stunt work – he also created the cheeky dolphin, Flipper. He also staged the cave sequence and the battle scenes beneath the Disco Volante and called in his specialist team of divers who were essentially underwater stunt extras during the underwater fights.
Bond, James Bond. Sadly we don’t get to hear Sean Connery utter those magnificent words this time round. Connery earned a tidy $800,000 for making this film, but he became very impatient with the heavy media attention in Nassau, which may have been partly due to his marital troubles with his wife at the time, Diane Cilento. He was also very nearly eaten by a shark, when filming in the pool at Largo’s property; the Plexiglas divider that was meant to hold the sharks back from where Connery was in the pool wasn’t – to coin a phrase – watertight, and a shark snuck in to where Connery was swimming. Apparently no one has ever jumped out of a pool faster.
Boo-boos. There are some continuity errors and mistakes as always, but the only one I noticed at the time of actually watching the movie was right at the beginning, where you hear Bond say “As I said, later” to Madame la Porte, his mouth is clearly saying something different! When Bond arrives at M’s office, there’s a modern white light switch by the door. When he leaves, it’s a bronze double switch; curious. Roland Culver’s character is referred to as the Home Secretary, but in the final credits he’s listed as the Foreign Secretary – now, which is it? And Leiter is sometimes in long trousers and sometimes in shorts whilst he’s piloting the helicopter – that’s an impressive quick change. Bond constantly checks his Breitling Geiger Counter watch to see if he’s near the atom bombs; on one occasion, however, it’s a Rolex – smart, but no cigar. This is not an exhaustive list – there’s plenty more for you to read about on the Internet!
The Bond Girl. As in Goldfinger, it takes the audience a while to work out who exactly is The Bond Girl in this film. It’s no surprise that there are a number of women who take his fancy as the film progresses. In one of his first conversations with Madame La Porte, she asks if there is anything else the French station can do for him. His reply, “later, perhaps”, accompanied by a slightly naughty grin implies he is attracted to her – but this goes no further, maybe because she’s a married Madame. Bond’s first interest is with the attractive physiotherapist at the spa, Patricia Fearing. Their banter is direct and their shower scene even more so – it almost won the film an X certificate, which would have been a box office disaster. Patricia is a nice dalliance for Bond until he leaves the spa, then she’s history. Such a cad. She was played by Molly Peters – although her voice was dubbed by Barbara Jefford – who appeared in a few films in the 60s but whose career was short-lived mainly due to legal wrangles.
Then we meet Paula Caplan, working for the CIA in Nassau, she shows a lot of early potential as a Bond girl but when she is captured by SPECTRE henchmen Vargas and Janni, she chooses suicide by cyanide capsule rather than be tortured to reveal any secrets of Operation Thunderball. Now that’s what I call a spy. She was played by Martine Beswick, who had previously appeared in From Russia with Love, as the fiery fighting gypsy girl, Zora. She had a long and varied career in TV and films, and is now semi-retired.
However, the real Bond Girl in this film is Domino, played by Claudine Auger. She’s Largo’s mistress, and Bond convinces her to help him when he reveals that Largo killed her brother. From then on, she’s a mole in his camp. When he realises that she is working against him, he captures her with intent to torture her; luckily Largo’s nuclear physicist Kutze also decided to jump ship and frees her, just in time for her shoot her harpoon gun through Largo’s heart and save Bond. Hurrah! Claudine Auger was on holiday in Nassau when Kevin McClory spotted her and asked her to audition. Originally, the role of Domino was written as an Italian girl, but Ms Auger impressed them so much they recruited her and changed the role to a French one. Previously, she had been Miss France and was runner-up to Miss World in 1958; and she had a long and varied film career.
What Bond Girls Are Like. From the first three films, we came to the conclusion that Bond Girls are: sexy, exotic, unpredictable, as equally likely to attack Bond as to support him, strong and self-reliant up to a point, sometimes tragic, professional and scary. Domino doesn’t throw many more attributes into the mix, apart from one: a desire for revenge.
The Villain. Of course the ultimate Villain is SPECTRE No 1, Blofeld, seen occasionally stroking his pussycat. But the “active” villain in Thunderball is No 2, Emilio Largo, played by Adolf