Coate: In what way was Charles Gray’s Blofeld a memorable villain?
Burlingame: Gray was a fine actor, so memorable as Mycroft Holmes in both The Seven-Per-Cent Solution and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, not to mention his fairly minor role in You Only Live Twice. He seemed to me to be the most sophisticated Blofeld yet, which was frankly a bit confusing after the more evil Donald Pleasence and mostly nasty Telly Savalas; his appearance was a bit unsettling because of his looks and his demeanor. The fact that we’ve now gotten Blofeld twice more in the films (counting Max Von Sydow and Christoph Waltz) has made the whole Blofeld thing so tired and annoying that I hope we never see the character again.
Cork: Gray was a fun actor, but his Blofeld is a complete fool. Never for a moment do I feel a threat from him. He would much rather talk Bond to death than do anything. Clearly he has a phobia about actually seeing Bond bleed, as he passes up innumerable chances to dispatch 007. The show is completely stolen by Wint and Kidd. They should have had their own series. Yes, they play into the Leopold and Loeb stereotype of homicidal homosexuals, but, putting that aside, the dialog is just so fantastic. “Mrs. Whistler did want some pictures of the canals for the children.” That line is so warped, so perfectly written, played and presented. You just know that they are going to actually mail those photos back to the little school in Africa. It’s horrible, and horribly funny. I hear it and I imagine Alfred Hitchcock smiling, thinking to himself that he wishes one of his writers thought of that.
Desowitz: Again, I think Gray’s Blofeld is memorable for his camp. If he were more like Henderson from You Only Live Twice, he would have more gravitas. But he’s delicious in the way he confounds Bond with the doppelgangers and double entendres. For once, he’s enjoying himself as much as Bond.
Pfeiffer: As indicated [earlier in the interview], Charles Gray and Jill St. John were memorable — but for the wrong reasons. Both were essentially miscast, if not disastrously so, then certainly distractingly so. If Gray were playing a generic villain, his performance would have been appropriate. Similarly, if St. John were cast as an airheaded character, so, too, would her performance have been suitable — but not as a tough, street wise smuggler.
Scivally: I enjoy Charles Gray’s Blofeld. He doesn’t have the chilly, dispassionate demeanor of the business-like Blofeld of the early films, or the physical deformity of Donald Pleasence, or the uber-masculine physicality of Telly Savalas, but he does seem capable, confident, charismatic and utterly charming — a man who would smile in your face while his look-alike double deftly slits your throat from behind. And his encounter with 007 in Willard Whyte’s penthouse is one of the great Bond-villain confrontations, with a swaggeringly confident and calculating James Bond facing off intellectually with an equally conceited and confident — and condescending — Blofeld.
Coate: In what way was Jill St. John’s Tiffany Case a memorable Bond Girl?
Burlingame: She’s so gorgeous and nonchalant that, in some ways, she was a breath of fresh air as an American Bond girl. After doing The Liquidator and Tony Rome, I think she understood the general territory pretty well. There’s nothing especially exotic about her, especially in the aftermath of Daniela Bianchi and Luciana Paluzzi; or especially sophisticated, as we had enjoyed with Honor Blackman and Diana Rigg. But she’s fine.
Cork: Tiffany Case wins the prize for the brassiest Bond girl. She always reminds me just a tad of Lucile Ball. When Bond finds her at her house after she ditched 007 for the diamonds, I keep expecting him to say, “Tiffany, you gotta lotta ‘splainin’ to do!” The thing I so love about her is that she cares about nothing but the diamonds. She is the spiritual mother of Jamie Lee Curtis in A Fish Called Wanda, completely amoral. If she had to sleep with Felix, Wint, Kidd and Blofeld’s cat to get those diamonds out of Earth orbit, she’d clearly have no compunction about doing so. “I’m cooperating, really.” Uh-huh. She is the first Bond woman whose character provides the “voice” of the Bond title song, its lyrics clearly coming from her world view.
Desowitz: She’s the first Bond bimbo — at least in the second-half — and literally becomes the butt of jokes. She’s as mercenary as they come, and the image of Bond and Tiffany in a fish-filled waterbed is the height of decadence.
Pfeiffer: [See response to the previous question.]
Scivally: And now we come to the weak link in the film. Jill St. John is an attractive woman, but her attempt to “play tough” in the beginning of the film is undone by overdubbed dialogue delivered so flatly that she seems to be reading off items on a lunch menu. And whereas Charles Gray, Bruce Glover and even Sean Connery play the comic moments with just the right insouciance, she tends to overdo it, coming off as a junior-league Lucille Ball, though one without Lucy’s comic timing or delivery. But then again, Lucy wouldn’t have looked nearly as fetching in a long-sleeved bikini.
Coate: What is the legacy of Diamonds Are Forever?
Burlingame: First off, the song. It is certainly one of the greatest Bond songs ever — as the author of the Bond music book, I am often asked which is my favorite and, while I change my mind just about every week, this one tops the list as often as not. John Barry’s sensuous melody, Don Black’s brilliant lyric and Shirley Bassey’s thrilling performance make it, let’s face it, one of the all-time great movie songs even beyond the Bond canon. The fact that the Academy Awards ignored it even for nomination was then, and is still, simply shameful. The film itself ranks somewhere in the middle — not great Connery but better than many Moores. Like many of the Bonds, it is of its time (1971): the films were becoming a bit lighter in tone; Connery’s interest was in a big payday that would benefit a favorite charity; the American setting was unusual for 007; and (just in case no one else mentions it) the poster art was phenomenal!
Cork: After the release of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, David Picker called Bond producer Cubby Broccoli to New York and told him the times they were a changing. He didn’t want more serious Bond films like Majesty’s. He wanted a Bond film like Goldfinger. He wanted it for a budget, and he wanted it to be fun, funny and shot the U.S. where the he could personally stay on top of the production. Cubby was eventually able to move the studio work back to Pinewood but only after Picker brought on Tom Mankiewicz to re-write Maibaum’s first draft, secured the return of Sean Connery and made it clear that if there were major overages on the budget, the studio would take over the film. It was a major rebuke to Broccoli and Saltzman who had made the previous three Bond films and independently two high-budget movies with virtually limitless budgets. So the legacy of Diamonds goes far beyond what appears on the screen. It marked the end of an era, and not just for Connery. It marked a growing interest at UA in controlling 007. Producer Harry Saltzman lasted two more films, and when he sold his share, United Artists purchased it. Gone were the days of the early-60s when UA would approve an independent production deal and then be invited to a screening of the producer’s delivery cut of the movie months later with scant creative involvement. David Picker became a major player in the Bond universe with Diamonds, and someone from UA, MGM or Sony has been deeply involved in each Bond film ever since. That’s the legacy. And, of course, to remember to keep wearing your radiation shields. G Section will be checking.
Desowitz: Again, the last Connery Bond with memorable farewells: dick-swinging with M, brow-beating Q, flirting with Moneypenny, and thrashing the baddies in grand style. He’s older, grayer, heavier, and slower — but still the best.
Pfeiffer: The legacy of Diamonds Are Forever is more important than its immediate qualities as a film are. If Connery had not returned to the role for this film, the series might well have faced an insurmountable crisis — especially since the producers had already cast American actor John Gavin in the role. The notion of an American ever playing Bond would seem unthinkable today but at the time it obviously seemed like a good idea. It wouldn’t have been. The unsung hero was United Artists production chief David V. Picker who agreed to sign Gavin but who couldn’t get comfortable with the idea. He flew to Spain to make a last ditch effort to convince Connery to return, despite his well-documented strained relationship with the producers. Over a game of golf, Picker agreed to pay Connery the highest salary in screen history — a now paltry $1.25 million, which Connery used to establish a charity in Scotland. Diamonds proved to be an enormous hit with even critics extolling its virtues even as hardcore purist fans expressed their disappointment. So the real value of the film is that it probably saved the franchise. For that we can forgive some casting errors, erratic writing and direction and a few cheesy special effects.
Scivally: I believe Diamonds Are Forever has a two-fold legacy. On the one hand, as mentioned before, it set a tone for the Bond films of the 1970s, giving rise to a period where the stunts were the stars, the more outrageous the better (and the ski jump opening of The Spy Who Loved Me being perhaps the best). In the case of Diamonds Are Forever, this meant a car chase on the streets of Las Vegas played for laughs as much as thrills and capped by a car going up on two wheels. It seems pretty tame today, but in 1971 this was exciting stuff, and so popular with audiences that car-chase movies became a 70s genre all their own, leading inevitably to Smokey and the Bandit and Cannonball Run, the latter featuring Roger Moore in an Aston Martin and proving Hal Needham to be a James Bond fan. Conclusion: without Diamonds Are Forever, we’d have been spared Stroker Ace.
Coate: Thank you — Jon, John, Bill, Lee, and Bruce — for participating and sharing your thoughts about Diamonds Are Forever on the occasion of its 45th anniversary.
The James Bond roundtable discussion will return in Remembering “You Only Live Twice” on its 50th Anniversary.
Selected images copyright/courtesy 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, CBS-Fox Home Video, Eon Productions Limited, Danjaq LLC, MGM Home Entertainment, United Artists Corporation.
- Michael Coate
Michael Coate can be reached via e-mail through this link.