2012 marks the 50th anniversary of James Bond on the big screen. To celebrate, SFX’s Nick Setchfield revisits each and every 007 adventure in a week by week countdown to Skyfall …
MISSION 7: DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER (1971)
“WHERE’S BLOFELD?” It’s tempting to see the pre-titles of Diamonds Are Forever as a vengeance-fired addendum to the tragic climax of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service . Bond is engaged in a relentless pursuit of Blofeld; an unseen, unflagging force of nature punching, kicking and smashing his way across the planet. Teasingly withheld for a long minute, Connery’s face is finally revealed as he delivers his signature line – “My name’s Bond… James Bond!” – and we barely clock his visibly older, more saturnine appearance before he whips a bikini top from a poolside beauty and proceeds to strangle her with it. It’s an uncharacteristically malicious moment for a Bond movie and part of a vicious new tone that permeates this entire sequence – 007’s jacket pocket conceals a mouse-trap style device that trades Q’s usual wit for straightforward cruelty, while Bond slings surgical scalpels with deadly precision, turning SPECTRE goons into shish kebab. Is this savage and merciless new Bond a reaction to Tracy’s murder? Tellingly, there’s not a single mention of his status as a widower – in fact Moneypenny will later make a joke about wedding rings that would seem to be in deplorable taste – and for all the grim satisfaction of Bond’s “Welcome to Hell, Blofeld” as his nemesis sinks into a molten grave, this may as well be a straight sequel to You Only Live Twice . Business as usual, Mr Bond.
VEGAS, BABY! James Bond cuts an uncomfortable figure as he walks through the deep-pile, daylight-defying environment of a Las Vegas casino, accompanied by a soul-deadening serenade of piped muzak. If it’s an attempt to chase a little Rat Pack cool, it feels belated, for Fleming’s old world hero has arrived in Vegas just as the city has stopped swinging. Once the playground of Sinatra and his equally sharp-suited cronies, Nevada’s neon-soaked gaming capital now has a nasty polyester sheen, and there’s an existential emptiness in its world of gas stations, car lots and dollar motels that feels deeply at odds with the traditional aspirational shimmer of the Bond universe. We may glimpse the unforgettable sight of an elephant playing a one-armed bandit but this all feels distinctly low-rent. Only as Connery rides a cable to the Whyte House, the Strip beyond alive with light against the desert night, does Vegas finally possess the sense of uncanny glamour that befits the screen’s most stylish hero.
SHADES OF GRAY Another Bond film, another Blofeld – and, iconography of white cat and beige suit aside, another incarnation that feels utterly incompatible with its predecessors (though this Blofeld’s obssession with plastic surgery and mischievous use of doubles at least hints at a possible rationale for all the identity-swapping japery). Charles Gray played doomed Tokyo contact Dikko Henderson in You Only Live Twice and, two films later, returns as the new face of the SPECTRE mastermind, now improbably blessed with a fine thatch of silver hair (were some of SPECTRE’s extorted millions siphoned into hair replacement research?). Portly, louche and armed with a languid cigarette holder, Gray brings an air of the gentleman’s club to the role, relishing the foppish purr of such lines as “Right idea, Mr Bond… wrong pussy!” It’s an unshakably camp turn compared to Pleasence’s cracked goblin and Savalas’ smooth gangster, never more so than in the scene where Blofeld drags up to make an escape. The sight of Gray in blue eyeshadow and scarlet lipstick, leering like a panto dame, actually manages to pack a deviant shiver. Yes, there’s something incongruous about Gray disparaging Bond’s Britain as “your pitiful little island” in a cut-glass English accent, but it fits with Fleming’s original conception of Blofeld as a stateless international shape-shifter. A wily, nameless cameo in For Your Eyes Only aside, it’s the last we’ll see of 007’s arch enemy in the official Bond movies, and it robs us of a fitting final showdown between the two men.
TRIV AND LET DIE
Singer-songwriter Paul Williams was the original choice for Mr Wint.
Raquel Welch was in the frame for the role of Tiffany Case.
Bond possesses a Playboy membership card.
JAMES BOND WILL RETURN IN LIVE AND LET DIE