This review is part of Project Bond, wherein over the course of 2014 we watch all of the James Bond movies in production order.
Summary: in which Bond is Connery again, Blofeld is the villain again, and the action takes place in a remarkably tacky Vegas that includes an elephant playing the slots (and winning). This is the first new Bond for Alex!
Alex: Yes friends, Connery came back for one more film after what was apparently a spectacular flop thanks to George Lasenby (unfair!). Mimicking the opening of that film, we hear Bond’s voice in the prologue long before we see his face, going for that tantalising thing of “is it? Is it??” which must have been completely offset by what was undoubtedly a massive advertising campaign.
If you haven’t seen the film, then my summary contains a massive spoiler, because Bond kills Blofeld in the prologue just before he undergoes some sort of plastic surgery. After all, the man has just shot his bride! … about which M is astonishingly insensitive, asking acerbically whether he can expect Bond to get back to his job now please? If he’s quite over being all emotional? Anyway, the grand denouement in the final act is that Blofeld is in fact not dead, but is manipulating a diamond-smuggling racket by impersonating a reclusive casino mogul. As one does when one has once again changed appearance, no longer being Telly Savalas but now Charles Gray.
The franchise can’t really decide whether it wants continuity or not: Bond kills Blofeld for revenge, but then ignores being a widower; Blofeld remarks that “science was never my strong suit” – except that of course it was, in the last film, since it was never suggested that he was simply the manager of the anti-allergy clinic. I imagine that this was a problem at least partly because that mysterious they never imagined the franchise would extend to six films; after all, who needs to think too hard about continuity for a run of maybe three films?
Before this reveal, it appears that the main villains are two utterly inscrutable men: Mr Wint and Mr Kidd, as they always call each other. Their motives for creating mayhem are never, as far as I can tell, fully revealed; they don’t even seem to be in it for the money. Maybe they just like killing and creating mayhem. They do have that feature common to most Bond villains: something that sets them apart from that manliest of men. Not a deformed hand or a scar… instead, they appear to be gay. Evidence? They are grown men who hold hands, and one comments that “Miss Case seems quite attractive – for a lady.” I’m intrigued that a film from the late 60s got away with having a homosexual couple. Villainous and hardly flaunting it, but still; my expectation of this era is that this was utterly verboten. Perhaps a franchise like this could get away with it? … but if that’s the case, then why don’t we see more gay characters in mainstream cinema in the 21st century? These are the questions that try, etc.
The plot revolves around diamond smuggling, which lends Moneypenny the opportunity to hint very broadly at Bond bringing her back a diamond ring – too soon! The real problem with the smuggling is that those diamonds are not, then, appearing on the market – they are presumably being stockpiled to then be dumped, or such a tactic threatened for blackmailing purposes. So once again Bond’s talents are being utilised for the benefit of the economy, not national security. To figure out what’s going on, Bond impersonates a diamond smuggler to hook up with Tiffany Case, to whom one of his first comments is “That’s a nice little nothing you’re almost wearing; I approve.” So what I think of as Roger Moore-era scripting, isn’t.
Which leads me sideways into a discussion, as always, of the women in the film. Case is initially a tough, business-oriented middleman for the smuggling operation. However, her character rapidly descends into can’t-do-anything-ness, which I found intensely irritating. Bond slaps her at one oint, to get information from her, and she barely reacts. My own reaction to this is complicated. I understand that in action films, there is violence. The fight scene between Pitt and Jolie in Mr and Mrs Smith? Brutal, and appropriate. The dance/fight between Starbuck and Apollo? Ditto. I don’t have a problem with men and women being violent in that context. Done in a manner that actually makes sense in the context, even demonstrations of the horror of domestic violence can make sense (this is an exception rather than a rule though). My problem with the violence shown in this – and other Bonds – is less that it’s a man hitting a woman, and much more that the woman rarely complains and it’s frequently immediately preceding or following sex. Yes, I know that the psychology around women in domestic violence situations is incredibly difficult: but this is Bond. It’s not aiming at verisimilitude, nor is it attempting to get across a deep message. Instead it’s suggesting that such violence is completely acceptable in someone like Bond – someone we admire. And I think that’s contemptibly lazy.
I should also mention the other three women in the film, but that won’t take much space. Bond meets Plenty O’Toole at the craps table; they go back to his place where a goon throws her over a balcony – fortunately for her, into a pool; she ends up drowned in a different pool later in the film. And then there’s Bambi (who’s white) and Thumper (who’s black): (body)guards of Willard Whyte, the man Blofeld is impersonating. They’re beautiful and athletic and tough, and of course Bond manages to take them both down.
Back to the plot, briefly: Unlike Goldfinger, whose goal really did revolve around the economy, Blofeld’s plans are grand and involve worldwide nuclear disarmament. For this reason he is working hand-in-glove with Professor Metz, a committed pacifist, who of course believes that Blofeld won’t actually take the final step of using the laser to harm anyone. Aw, so sad to see his disillusionment. Bond foils the plan to use the laser by switching cassettes (cassettes!) and stuffing the real one down Case’s bikini bottoms. Case then switches them back, thinking this is what Bond wants her to do and that she’s the one putting in a fake. Bond’s wrath at Case’s incompetence is spectacular… except of course it wasn’t incompetence, it was an entirely understandable and incredibly brave undertaking on her part – Bond just didn’t think she had the ability to do anything useful. It all comes good of course and Blofeld is really and truly killed, The End.
There is further evidence in this film of the franchise’s inherent SFnal nature. Tiffany Case has a most awesome machine that scans a photograph of Bond’s fingerprints and compares them with a set on file; Q has provided Bond with fake fingerprints for just such a contingency. There’s some discussion of radiation shields, a fake moon setting, and the whole point of the diamonds is actually to somehow allow the satellite to focus its laaaaaassseerrrrrrr better.
James: The most striking thing about this film is how different it feels to all the European based films which have come before. The American muscle cars, the desert and big sky country. Vegas is super cheesy and the car chases contrived. It would seem the world was still obsessed with space when this film was made with yet another villain using satellites to create a mayhem and destruction story line. One particular conjunction of all these themes was a chase involving a moon buggy, moto-trikes and cars across the desert – incomprehensibly the moon buggy with its top speed of about 7km per hour easily beats all comers. 1.5 Martinis.