There’s immediately a lighter tone to this. The dialogue throughout is snappy and witty, and the storytelling is economical and enjoyable. New writer Tom Mankiewicz gives us a script that pops and fizzes along, while director Guy Hamilton brings back the comic style he used so successfully in Goldfinger. And early example is the scene of Bond being briefed about his mission – it’s crosscut with shots of the jewel smugglers at work, and is very deftly handled. The whole film has a swagger, a confidence, and the two hours pass by very entertainingly. This is breezy, escapist Bond at its best. Nine moonbuggies out of 10.
Bond: Sean Connery was tempted back for a one-off appearance (his fee was $1.2 million, an astronomical figure, which he donated to a trust) and is perfectly at ease with the comic script. Some critics have said he seems bored in this film. Not a bit of it. Before Connery agreed to do the film, another actor – American John Gavin – was signed to play James Bond and had to be paid off.
Villains: For the third movie running, Blofeld is the main bad guy. He’s been recast yet again: this time he’s Charles Gray (who was in You Only Live Twice, of course). He’s great fun, playing it arch and a bit camp (at one point, he drags up to sneak out of a hotel). At the start of the film, Bond is hunting down Blofeld – but whether this is for revenge for Tracy’s death or a continuation of Connery’s last appearance isn’t made clear (James doesn’t seem especially widower-y, so maybe the idea was that we should discount On Her Majesty’s). Willard Whyte, a spoof of Howard Hughes, is set up a red-herring bad guy, while there are also two villainous double acts. Cheerfully sadistic couple Mr Kidd and Mr Wint crop up throughout the movie, bumping people off and smiling at each other (the former is played by Putter Smith, a jazz bassist who played on You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling). And Bond meets acrobatic pair Bambi and Thumper, who seem to sit around in leotards on the off-chance someone comes round for a fight.
Girls: The pre-titles sequence features Bond whipping a bra off of girl by a swimming pool, and we get a flash of boob (the series’s first, I think). The movie’s female lead is Tiffany Case, a fantastic, sassy American played with charm and humour by Jill St John. In her first scene, she leaves the room to switch her blonde wig to a brunette one. “And which do you prefer?” she asks Bond. “Oh, providing the collars and cuffs match…” he says. She is a breath of fresh air, giving the film a believable human in amongst the spies, scientists and psychos. She also looks terrific in a bikini. During the casino section, we also meet Plenty O’Toole (“Named after your father perhaps…”) played by Lana Wood (pictured). She gets thrown out of a very high window and lands in the hotel swimming pool. “Exceptionally fine shot,” says Bond. The lead thrower deadpans, “I didn’t know there was a pool down there.”
Regulars: Blofeld’s back, of course. His cat wears a diamond necklace. Moneypenny poses as a customs official. Q comes out to Las Vegas and uses a gadget to cheat at the one-armed bandits. Felix has been recast again and is played here by Norman Burton – again, an actor makes little impression with this part. M gets a retread of the Goldfinger scene where Bond out-snobs him in front of an expert. Asked what he knows about diamonds, Bond nonchalantly says, “Well, hardest substance found in nature. They cut glass, suggest marriage. I suppose they’ve replaced a dog as a girl’s best friend, and that’s about it.”
Action: It’s often tongue-in-cheek. There’s a claustrophic punch-up in a lift. Bond escapes Blofeld’s research facility on a moonbuggy. (Why? Best not to question it.) Bond and Tiffany get chased by the cops through Vegas – and the scene involves the famous car-tilts-onto-two-wheels stunt with its silly insert shot to explain why the Ford Mustang goes into an alley on its right wheels and exits on its left. There’s also Bond’s scrap with Bambi and Thumper, and the assault on the oil rig (which is oddly devoid of music at times).
Comedy: Lots. Tiffany’s “You just killed James Bond!” is a joy. When Felix says of a corpse, “I know you put the diamonds in the body, but where?”, Bond replies, “Alimentary, Dr Leiter.” Sammy Davies Jnr is in a deleted scene available on the DVD. Tiffany jokingly refers to Bond as Superman – Tom Mankiewicz went on to write the first two Superman movies. The best sight gag in the film is during the battle at the end: Tiffany nervously fires a machine gun, and the recoil tips her backwards.
Music: The theme song is famously seductive (Shirley Bassey returns – another link to Goldfinger) and the score has a laidback, 1970s cocktail-bar charm.
People I’ve met: Ed Bishop appears again, and gets a scene with James Bond.