Diamonds’ 45th: Rodney Dangerfield of 007 films

Diamonds Are Forever poster

Diamonds Are Forever poster

When Diamonds Are Forever came out 45 years ago this month, it was a huge deal. Sean Connery was back! Everything was back to normal in 007 land.

Nowadays, Diamonds is more like the Rodney Dangerfield of James Bond films, not getting any respect.

Some fans complain about too much humor, about Connery not being in shape, about Blofeld (Charles Gray) dressing in drag as a disguise and about Bond’s wardrobe (his fat, pink tie in particular).

Perhaps the biggest advocate of the movie is former United Artists executive David Picker. In his 2013 memoir, Musts, Maybes and Nevers, he says Diamonds saved the Bond series because he got the idea of paying Connery a lot of money to return as 007.

Producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman had cast American John Gavin in the role. But UA became more hands on with the seventh film in the series compared with previous entries. UA (via Picker) didn’t want to take a chance after George Lazenby played Bond in 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

Regardless, Diamonds reflected the creative team’s desire to get back to the style of Goldfinger. As a result, director Guy Hamilton returned. So did production designer Ken Adam after a one-picture absence. John Barry was on board and this time Shirley Bassey would return to perform the title song.

There was new blood, however, in the form of screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz, brought in to rewrite Richard Maibaum’s early drafts. Mankiewicz would work on the next four films of the series, although without credit on The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker.

"What does that mean, anyway?"

Q was aghast at Bond’s tie.

Mankiewicz (1942-2010), part of a family prominent in both show business and politics, still generates sharp divisions among Bond fans. Supporters say his witty one liners enlivened the proceedings. (“At present, the satellite is over Kansas,” Blofeld muses at one point. “Well, if we destroy Kansas, the world may not hear about it for years.”) Detractors say he simply didn’t understand Bond and made things too goofy.

The writer’s initial draft actually contained more bits from Ian Fleming’s 1956 novel than would be in the final film. (This 2011 ARTICLE has more details, just scroll down to the section about the Mankiewicz draft.) Still, with Diamonds, it was now standard practice that the films need have little in common with Fleming’s novels.

The legacy of the movie is mixed. Diamonds got 007 into the 1970s. But as late as 1972, people still questioned whether the series could survive without Sean Connery. That wouldn’t be evident until after Diamonds. And the movie clearly began a lighter era for the series.

Still, Bond was Bond. The movie was a success with moviegoers. It had a worldwide box office of $116 million, an improvement from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’s $82 million and You Only Live Twice’s $111.6 million.

Diamonds fell short of Goldfinger and Thunderball ($124.9 million and $141.2 million respectively). But it did well enough that Eon Productions would again try to find a successor to Connery.

2003: Academics dissect (and then some) James Bond

Ian Fleming

Ian Fleming

We were reminded of an event that took on a life of its own: a 2003 academic conference about Ian Fleming and James Bond.

It was held at the main Indiana University campus in Bloomington, where many Fleming manuscripts and letters are kept. On May 29-June 1 of that year, various academics descended on Bloomington to examine 007 from every conceivable angle.

Some of the essays were collected in a 2005 book, Ian Fleming and James Bond: The Cultural Politics of 007. It’s a bit pricey even today, with a paperback costing $26.

However, the book’s introduction can be viewed on a Google preview of the book. It gives you a flavor of some of the subjects discussed.

For example, “Fleming’s Company Man: James Bond and the Management of Modernism” argued that 007 was “less a champion of consumer culture than a hero of the corporation,” according to introduction.

“‘Alimentary, Dr. Leiter’: Anal Anxiety in Diamonds Are Forever” is an essay that “explores Bond’s sexuality, but as it is represented in the films of the seventies.”

Another entry is “Lesbian Bondage,” which “traces Bond’s transformation from excessively masculine hero to stylishly accessorized dandy.” The latter version “is less appealing to feminists and lesbians,” according to the introduction’s summary of the essay.

Other essays presented at the conference sought to put Bond in a historical context, including how the novels were first published as the British Empire was dissipating. “The Bond novels represent a response to the dilemmas and give voice to the hopes and fears of Cold War England,” the introduction says.

What’s more, the introduction says there were disagreements arose during conference planning. It says there were “disparate goals” between Ian Fleming Publications and the Ian Fleming Foundation.

The latter preserves Bond-related artifacts, including vehicles and miniatures that appeared in the films. Ian Fleming Publications hires authors to write 007 continuation novels. IFP, according to the introduction, urged conference organizers “to use only Fleming’s name — not Bond’s — on our promotional material and to avoid any kitschy display of fan-based adoration.”

Four 007 films credited with saving the franchise

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

This week’s 10th anniversary of Casino Royale generated a number of stories crediting the 21st James Bond film with saving the franchise.

However, this wasn’t the first time the series, in the eyes of some, had been saved. What follows is a list of four.

Diamonds Are Forever (1971): Sean Connery returned to the Eon Productions fold for a one-off after 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

Producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman weren’t looking for Connery’s return. But United Artists executive David V. Picker was. As a result of efforts by Picker, Connery was offered, and accepted, a $1.25 million salary coupled with other financial goodies. John Gavin, who had  been signed as Bond, was paid off.

None other than Picker himself, in his 2013 memoir Musts, Maybe and Nevers,  said the moved saved the Bond series.

Hyperbole? Maybe. Still, Majesty’s box office ($82 million) slid 26.5 percent from You Only Live Twice and 42 percent from Thunderall. Those percentage change figures won’t warm a studio executive’s heart.

Diamonds rebounded to $116 million, better than Twice but still not at Thunderball levels. Nevertheless. Picker has argued his strategy of getting Connery back kept the series going.

The Spy Who Loved Me (1977): The 10th 007 film was made after Broccoli and Saltzman dissolved their partnership, with UA buying out Saltzman.

What’s more, the box office for the previous series entry, The Man With the Golden Gun, had plunged almost 40 percent from Roger Moore’s Bond debut, Live And Let Die.

As a result, there was anxiety associated with the production. Spy ended up re-establishing Bond, in particular the Roger Moore version. The movie produced a popular song, Nobody Does It Better, and the film received three Oscar nominations.

GoldenEye (1995): The 17th Bond adventure made its bow after a six-year hiatus, marked by legal fights. Albert R. Broccoli, at one point, put Danjaq and Eon on the market, though no sale took place.

As the movie moved toward production, health problems forced Broccoli to yield day-to-day supervision over to daughter Barbara Broccoli and stepson Michael G. Wilson.

The question was whether 007, now in the person of Pierce Brosnan, could resume being a successful series. The previous entry, Licence to Kill, didn’t do well in the U.S., finishing No. 4 in its opening weekend, even though it was the only new movie release released that weekend.

GoldenEye did fine and Bond was back.

Casino Royale (2006): This week, a website called History, Legacy & Showmanship had comments by various Bond students, including documentary maker John Cork, who is quoted as saying, “Casino Royale saved Bond.” Yahoo Movies ran a piece with the headline ‘Casino Royale’: The Movie That Saved James Bond Turns 10.

Meanwhile, GQ.com ran a article saying Casino was the best 007 film while Forbes.com aruged the movie “provides a helpful template in terms of doing the reboot just right.”

If Casino saved the franchise, it wasn’t necessarily in a financial sense. 2002’s Die Another Day was a success at the box officce. But Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson were having a creative mid-life crisis.

“We are running out of energy, mental energy,” Wilson told The New York Times in October 2005. “We need to generate something new, for ourselves.”

The something new was casting Daniel Craig in a more serious version of 007 and starting the series over with a new continuity.

Casino was a hit with global box office of $594.4 million compared with Die Another Day’s $431.9 million. In the U.S. market, Casino actually sold fewer tickets than Die Another Day (25.4 million compared with 27.6 million). But, with higher ticket prices, Casino out earned Die Another Day in the market, $167.4 million to $160.9 million.

On Twitter, the blog did an informal (and very unscientific) survey whether fans thought Casino had saved the series. You can see the results below.

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Cleveland Pops orchestra to have 007 music program

Sean Connery in a 007 publicity still

Sean Connery in a 007 publicity still

The Cleveland Pops orchestra on Nov. 12 will have a program titled “The Name is Bond…James Bond!”

The program includes various James Bond film songs, including Goldfinger, Skyfall, Diamonds Are Forever and Nobody Does Better. Some non-Bond selections are also part of the program, including Secret Agent Man and Mission: Impossible.

The Cleveland Pops is conducted by Carl Topilow and performing will be Rachel York, an actress and singer.

The Cleveland Pops will perform at Severance Hall starting at 8 p.m. Ticket prices range from $21 to $95.

More details about the program, including how to order, can be found by CLICKING HERE.

 

James W. Gavin, ace pilot for TV and movies

James W. Gavin pilots a helicopter with Efrem Zimbalist Jr.

James W. Gavin pilots a helicopter with Efrem Zimbalist Jr. on board.

One in a series about unsung figures of television.

James W. Gavin over a long career in television and movies mostly went unnoticed.

The pilot/second unit director/bit part player was a top helicopter pilot. His services were in demand for various TV serious as well as films such as Vanishing Point and The Towering Inferno.

Gavin got a bit of recognition in the documentary Inside Diamonds Are Forever.

Screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz told the anecdote of how Gavin had the presence of mind to get the cameras rolling when explosions were set off for what was supposed to be a rehearsal for the oil-rig sequence.

According to Mankiewicz, some of that footage ended up in the final version of Diamonds.

On occasion, Gavin got to be an actor. Not surprisingly, he played pilots, presumably because it was cheaper to film him reciting lines while he was flying. In some cases, he was billed as “Gavin James,” rather than by his real name.

Gavin was one of the go-to pilots for QM Productions, flying helicopters for the company’s various shows, including The FBI.

Gavin died in 2005 at the age of 70.

About that ‘Chairman Mao’ 007 villain wardrobe

UPDATE: @SuperThunderFan on Twitter reminds us that Dr. No had a similar look in the movie of the same name, not to mention Bond himself (of course, those were borrowed clothes) as well as Kamal Khan in Octopussy.

ORIGINAL POST: Is it asking too much for a little variety? Let’s consider, the “Chairman Mao” look appears to have originated with the 1967 spoof version of Casino Royale.

The “dramatic reveal” (such as it is) is that Jimmy Bond (Woody Allen), the nephew of James Bond (David Niven), is the villain.

woody-allen-casino-royale-1967

Just a few months later, You Only Live Twice, the fifth 007 film produced by Eon Productions, debuted. It’s the first time we see Blofeld on screen. In his previous appearances (in From Russia With Love and Thunderball), Blofeld wore a suit. But not for this big reveal in the person of Donald Pleasence.

blofeld-yolt

This look for Blofeld would continue for the next two Eon films, including Charles Gray as Blofeld in 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever.

blofeldsmiles

Diamonds would be the final appearance by Blofeld in an Eon movie for a while. But, in 1973’s Live And Let Die, “Wardrobe by Blofeld” continued in the person of Dr. Kananga (Yaphet Kotto). And he had *nothing* to do with SPECTRE.

lald-yahphet-kotto

A couple of movies later, Bond did battle with rich/crazy guy Karl Stromberg and…oh, for crying out loud, couldn’t he afford his own wardrobe?

stromberg-tswlm

Well, The Spy Who Loved Me was a huge hit. Producer Albert R. Broccoli was ensured the resources for an even bigger hit with 1979’s Moonraker — except for a new wardrobe for his villain, embodied by Michael Londale’s Drax.

moonraker-drax

We’ll skip ahead many years (leaving aside the question about whether that guy in the pre-credits sequence of For Your Eyes Only was Blofeld or not). It’s now 1997. It’s a new era.

So in 1997’s Tomorrow Never Dies….oh, for crying out loud! Apparently, Jonathan Pryce’s villainous media baron is cheap when it comes to clothes!

tomorrow-never-dies-villain

OK, let’s go further forward to the 21st century. The franchise has been rebooted. Oh, there’s a new version of Blofeld? Almost certainly, there’s no way they’d copy that campy, goofy 1960s version. Right? Maybe not.

blofeld-waltz

If the producers need a Blofeld for Bond 25, and Christoph Waltz is unavailable, they should perhaps consider one of the performers in this video. Joey Bishop and Sammy Davis Jr. are no longer with us. But Regis Philbin is still going strong.

Ken Adam to be honored by American Film Institute

Ken Adam

Ken Adam

Ken Adam, the long-time film production designer who died in March, is being honored by the American Film Institute with a film series that runs starting July 9 and into September.

AFI is showing a range of films reflecting Adam’s work, including all seven James Bond films he designed for producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman.

In addition, the series includes The Ipcress File, the first Harry Palmer film that was produced by Saltzman, and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, the children’s movie based on an Ian Fleming novel that Broccoli produced.

The movies are being shown at the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center in Silver Spring, Maryland.

The dates are as follows. The movies are shown at different times of day and for full details, CLICK HERE.

July 9, 11, 13: Dr. No (1962), the first James Bond film, where Adam’s sets made the movie look more expensive than it really was.

July 10, 12, 14: Goldfinger (1964). Adam, with no access to the interior of Fort Knox, created one from his imagination.

July 16, 20: Thunderball (1965). The Biggest Bond of All and Adam’s work was one of the reasons.

July 17: You Only Live Twice (1967), the first Bond film to toss out an Ian Fleming plot and substitute its own. Adam’s SPECTRE volcano headquarters set was a major highlight.

July 23, 26: Diamonds Are Forever (1971).

July 25: The Seven-Per-Cent Solution

July 31: Around the World in 80 Days (1956), Michael Todd-produced film version of the Jules Verne novel starring David Niven, with various stars making cameo appearances.  Adam is credited as an art director and his name is spelled Adams. The movie’s associate producer was William Cameron Menzies, who helped pioneer the concept of a production designer responsible for the overall look of a film.

Aug. 6, 10: The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), Adam returned after a two-picture absence from the Bond series. His work included the interior of what’s supposed to be a tanker that swallows nuclear submarines.

Aug. 7, 9: Moonraker (1979), Adam’s farewell to the 007 series, where his contributions included a space station.

Aug. 13, 16: The Ipcress File (1965), Adam demonstrated he could handle a more realistic spy film.

Aug. 20, 24: Barry Lyndon (1975), Stanley Kubrick-directed film where Adam won an Academy Award.

Aug. 26, 30, Sept. 1: Night of the Demon (1957)

Aug. 27, 28, 30, Sept. 1: Gideon of Scotland Yard (1958)

Sept. 2, 3, 5: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968). Who better to design a flying car than Ken Adam?

Sept. 3, 6, 8: The Last of Shiela (1973)

Ken Adam's "war room" set from Dr. Strangelove

Ken Adam’s “war room” set from Dr. Strangelove

Sept. 9, 10, 12, 13, 14: Dr. Strangelove (1964): Adam passed on the second Bond film, From Russia With Love, to work with Kubrick on the nuclear war satire. Adam’s biggest contribution was the War Room set, which has inspired production designers and art directors ever since.

Sept. 10: The Madness of King George, which resulted in Adam’s second Academy Award.