Welcome back to the newest installment in my massive undertaking of comparing the James Bond of the books to the James Bond of the movies. And after 3 entries of varying qualities and varying levels of faithfulness, we finally get to a movie that stars the man responsible for making Bond such an iconic character on screen. Sean Connery shows up for the first time here and it is a damn sight for sore eyes after two Roger Moore monstrosities. And he shows up in a damn good book, in an adaptation that is not as fundamentally different to it’s book in the way Moonraker was, but is full of new material. Diamonds Are Forever is an interesting flick in the franchise’s history, and a damn good book. So let’s get to stepping by looking at the 4th book, the basis of the 7th movie.
To see the write up on Casino Royale, click here.
To see the write up on Live and Let Die, click here.
To see the write up on Moonraker, click here.
Diamonds Are Forever
In 1970, the Bond franchise had entered a very odd period in it’s history. Their replacement for Sean Connery had not been as warmly received as the producers would have hoped. Despite that little setback, they still had aimed to push ahead with him anyway for the next movie. But Lazenby had other ideas. He felt the time for the franchise had come and gone, a relic of the 60s that wouldn’t fit in with the new free wheeling hippie era of the 70s. So he stepped aside. So the producers really only had one option available. Offer Sean Connery a record salary to return to the role that he had hated doing because of a lack of respect in the payment department. And the man accepted. The Bond franchise seemed to be coming back to it’s roots and maybe righting the course. And despite a not so warm critical reception, the movie was a big hit, making over $100 Million worldwide and $43 Million in the US on a budget of $7.2 Million. Bringing Connery back was a big success. But it would be his last entry in the EON series (see more on the Thunderball entry later down the line). He donated all of his salary to charity as a fuck you to the producers and told them again to fuck themselves when they offered him a salary raise of about 5x, leaving them again. This lead to the horrific decision of casting Roger Moore and sending the series into a pretty grim place for almost 3 decades, with bright spots eeking out here and there. This is a pretty important flick in the series for that reason alone.
The movie that in many ways changed the face of the franchise for a long time was based on the fourth entry in Fleming’s series. Released in 1956 after the rebound success of Moonraker, Fleming had managed to top himself yet again. That may be due to the fact that he essentially tells a one off story that has nothing to do with Russia or SMERSH or any continuity elements built up before. Bond is tasked with infiltrating a diamond smuggling ring which leads to the US and takes money away from the Crown. His mission takes him from England to New York City to upstate New York and all the way to Las Vegas. And the bad guys this time out? The mafia. It’s that simple. Really bad dudes that have no interesting in geo political nonsense or ideological differences. Just greedy, vicious sons of bitches with a knack for keeping their culpability under wraps. A nice, simple crime story with a sense of style and a sense of danger around every corner. This may be the darkest of the books thus far. That’s in stark contrast to the movie.
A constant thread in the adaptations I’ve notice thus far is not just a changing of the material on many levels, they always manage to complicate things. Live and Let Die was a muddle crime story about pirate gold, where the movie was a jumbled blaxploitation movie that doesn’t even reveal itself to the end and makes the villain more complicated. Moonraker was a little mystery and thriller, trying to figure out what’s the danger and who is at play. The movie though goes way too big and convoluted, sending Bond to space and getting a bit biblical with a Noahs Arc type plot. And where this book was a pulpy crime story, the movie takes things too far with a conspiracy by Blofeld and a rocket lazer.
One of the biggest changes can be boiled down to the inclusion of Blofeld as the bad guy in this. In the book, the bad guys are two brothers (Serrafimo and Jack Sprang) in charge of this gang that are in charge of this diamond smuggling ring. There’s a bit of mystery to it in that no one has seen one of the brothers (Serrafimo) and a mysterious third party that goes by ABC (ultimately revealed to be Jack), but it’s a straight forward story about Bond trying to undermine this ring. In the movie, all of that is gone. And it’s not even about diamond smuggling really. Bond is tasked with that mission, but soon comes to find out that these smuggled diamonds are being stolen and those involved are being killed. All of this leads him to Blofeld, whom he thought he killed in the beginning.
Continuity isn’t the biggest draw of the movies, but there was a surprising amount of it in the beginning. Even with the changing actors, some stuff carried over. The movie begins with Bond hunting for Blofeld like a raging bull, kicking ass before taking names. All this is due to Blofeld killing the woman Bond loved and married in the last movie, the Lazenby starring On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. We think that all the Blofeld business was done with, but it becomes clear roughly halfway through that Blofeld is at the helm of this business. And since Blofeld is involved, the reasoning for his plan is much more convoluted than simple greed. It’s revealed he’s using diamonds to power a space bound lazer, destroying the nuclear stockpiles of countries around the world so he can sell nukes to the highest bidder. Complicated is the key word here.
For about the first half of the movie, it isn’t a complete reimagining of the book. Things are changed, such as the story point of two hitmen (Wint and Kidd, more later) killing the members to the ring. But it still has the hook of Bond going undercover as Peter Franks, a mid level criminal. There’s still the trek to Vegas to get closer to the ring. And there’s the Bond girl, Tiffany Case. Tiffany in the movie is the one example of simplifying things down from the book. They both share the same role as a contact for the smuggling ring, but the book version has a backstory that makes her a little darker and more standoffish than the movie version. See, the movie version is just a bit of a chipper criminal, a con artist of sorts with some ditzy traits. In the book? She’s a woman who has sworn off men because she was gangraped by a group of gangsters when she was 16 for not paying protection money at the cathouse she worked. No one can say Fleming’s books weren’t dark as fuck, in stark contrast to the movies. The simplifying in the movies is good, since it would just not fit the breezy tone of it at all. And it also makes the bedding of Case more palatable, since the rape victim just getting over her trauma because Bond smooth talks her a bit is a little too much to swallow. But in simplifying Case in the movies, they complicate the Bond girl thing by adding a second one. Her name is the deliriously silly Plenty O’Toole (Connerys face at the name shows his feelings of the series perfectly). She’s in it just as eye candy and nothing more, being dispensed of to shock Case into working with Bond. And even simplifying Case doesn’t work out in the end as Jill St John is just not great in the role. She doesn’t make it work and she is one of the weakest Bond girls in the franchise.
Another pair of characters that made the transition is the two hitmen, Wint and Kidd. They even get more time in the story in the movie without really changing them at all. They also play into the obvious issues Fleming had with any group not straight white men, since they are portrayed as sadistic homos. It’s not really clear what’s the worst part about them, the killing or the gayness. But their roles as only shifted in the two stories. In the book, they are the hit crew from Detroit that the Sprangs use to kill people. In the movie, they work for Blofeld to get rid of the diamond connections. Nothing major. The movie gives them more time but also, like Case, gets rid of some details Fleming gave. But the points are still made that they are weird dudes, thanks to the performances of Bruce Glover and Putter Smith.
All the major changes come from having to make this a Blofeld story. Simple diamond smuggling wouldn’t jive with the MO of this devious bastard, a man who’s organizations name literally has terrorism in it’s name. So if you want Tiffany Case in it, the goofier tone that Blofeld brings about would erase her rape history. Want Wint and Kidd? Can’t have them as simple hitmen, gotta change them to SPECTRE killers. Can’t really delve into the smuggling ring since Blofelds plot is too outlandish, so we’ll just take them out in the first act. And obviously, we gotta change almost every beat for the most part. So gone is the story point of Bond getting paid with info to bet on a fixed horse race, which takes out his trip to northern NY to fix the race in his favor to upset the mob. Gone is the casino trip with Bond winning his payment on a fixed blackjack game, then betting it on roulette despite the mobs instructions to not bet, trying to rile them up. And gone is the torture scene and the train derailment. Felix Leiter is in the movie, but barely and not crippled as he was in the book (thanks to being fed to a shark in Live and Let Die). The climax is similar, being set on a boat with Wint and Kidd. But in the book, they’re tasked with killing Tiffany whereas the movie has them after Bond. Bond also executes them in the book, setting it up to look like a murder/suicide. Movie Bond lights one on fire and throws the other one off the boat attached to a bomb. The movie version is a lot sillier than it sounds. And since all the diamond smuggling stuff is essentially wiped away, the sort of framing device set in Africa is gone, ending on the boat in the movie instead of Bond blowing up Jack Sprangs helicopter in Africa.
The movie was something I’ve seen before, having a bad memory of it. But rewatching it, I’ve come to appreciate it more. Connery makes it feel more Bond like, fun and thrilling with some sexiness to it. But it does fall apart a bit in the second half when the plot comes out and the convoluted bullshit piles up. It’s a step down from Secret Service, but it’s better than You Only Live Twice and almost all of Moore’s. The book though? This is the best one I’ve read thus far. Fleming has hit his stride and is figuring this shit out pretty well. This is the closest to one of the movies in structure I’ve seen thus far, Casino Royale not withstanding, as they added a lot to make it more of a movie. This book is tight and intriguing, filled with some good action and tense violence. It still contains some of Flemings hateful bigotry, going back at blacks for a bit but adding the Italians and the gays to his shit list. But this one reads smoothly, is plotted pretty well and is a step back from the timely Soviet backdrop of the first three. The movie is made watchable if you like and know the series, but may put off those not in the know. The book can be read by most with ease, as continuity and tone is not an issue. Having now gotten into Connery, we’ve got three of his movies in a row coming up and I am damn excited. The first one up is my favorite of his work, so I’m excited to read the book. From Russia With Love is on deck and with the improvements Flemings shown and the greatness of the movie, it’s gonna be a good time getting into those.
Next Up: From Russia With Love