Stark and Run For It Marty continue their epic quest to re-read all of Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels in order of publication and discuss them here, at the Last Movie Outpost. You can read their take on Casino Royale here, and Live And Let Die here. Last time around they dealt with Moonraker.
Now the series of 007 novels continues and switches up a gear. From the tight, UK focused and very contained story of Moonraker – very different from the movie – Bond returns to international duty in the fourth novel in the series, Diamonds Are Forever. How different is this from the movie? Very different in some ways, incredibly similar in others. How? Well read on.
They won’t leave in the night
In this story, 007 is informed by M of the damage an African smuggling pipeline is doing to British interests. With sizeable holdings, any leakage and theft is bad for the Treasury.
Bond assumes the identity of Peter Franks, a courier in the smuggling organization, and follows the trail from London to Las Vegas. His goal is to infiltrate the organisation as Franks, work backwards from there to expose the beginning of the smuggling pipeline and then close it down. He finds himself up against Jack and Seraffimo Spang.
He is initially dismissive of these Italian-American mobsters, and the mafia in general, as completely beneath him. He has been up against the fearsome SMERSH and the might of the USSR, who are these jumped-up, over coiffured, common thieves to threaten him? However, as he gets closer to the heart of their organization, and is drawn in by the beguiling yet damaged Tiffany Case, he begins to understand just how dangerous these people truly are.
So far, so Sean Connery, right? Well other than the existence of a character called Shady Tree and two homosexual hitmen called Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd, this is about where any similarity with the movie ends.
No Willard Whyte. No Bambi and Thumper. No space-based, diamond-powered laser, no oil rig headquarters, and no Blofield. In fact, we are still quite a few novels away from SPECTRE making their first appearance.
I’ve No Fear That They Might Desert Me
In fact, it doesn’t take the movie very long at all to deviate from the book. Wint and Kidd are certainly not the comedic characters from the movie. In fact, the movies’ distinctly camp and very tongue in cheek tone is completely absent in the book. The movie itself will always stand out as an interesting entry into the series, for all the wrong reasons.
Ongoing disagreements over money had started to sour the relationship between Cubby Broccoli and his leading man, Sean Connery, since around the time Thunderball was being developed as a motion picture. Connery was also concerned about being typecast. This all came to a head with a number of incidents while filming You Only Live Twice in Japan. Connery decided to quit. Unknown George Lazenby was given the role and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was made.
Lazenby was badly advised and despite having a seven-picture deal he decided to leave the role. While Eon Productions began the search for a new 007, United Artists were adamant. Get Connery back, no matter what the cost. Lured back for a then considerable £1.25m Connery returned to the role for what he claimed was the final time. When asked if he would play 007 again he famously said:
What a mistake it is. Connery seems out of shape, bored, unengaged. Between that and the need to crow-bar SPECTRE, Blofield, and some global jeopardy into proceedings while following the now established Bond formula, the result is the of the weakest in the series.
Fleming took his inspiration from an in-depth article in the Sunday Times about diamond smuggling. His background research was later built out into his non-fiction work The Diamond Smugglers.
Upon reading about diamond smuggling from Sierra Leone and the potential impact on British interests he considered this story as the possible basis for a new novel and, through an old school friend, he engineered a meeting with Sir Percy Sillitoe, the ex-head of MI5 (Bond works for MI6), then working in a security capacity for the diamond-trading company De Beers.
Also added to the story, and featured briefly in the opening title sequence to the movie, was a mud bath. Fleming’s old friend told him about the spa town of Saratoga Springs so when on his US travels with Ivar Bryce and Ernest Cueno the three of them travelled across New York state to see for themselves.
Fleming met the rich socialite, William Woodward, Jr. on this trip and was impressed with the custom Studillac he drove, a Studebaker with a powerful Cadillac engine. So he put that in the novel. Shortly afterwards Woodward was killed by his wife when she mistook him for a prowler at their home. The novel was dedicated to:
“…the memory of W. W. Jr., at Saratoga, 1954 and 55”
This is where the filmmakers took inspiration for the name of Willard White for the movie.
On the same trip he also crossed to LA and met Captain James Hamilton of the LAPD Intelligence Division to get the download on the mafia in America.
From there he travelled to Las Vegas and stayed at The Sands hotel where the hotel owner, Jack Entratter, taught him about security systems and the card methods James Bond uses in the casino in the movie. After this trip he retired to his estate in Jamaica, Goldeneye, and began to write. On completion he wrote to his friend Hilary Bray – inspiration for a character name in a later novel – and said the following:
“I baked a fresh cake in Jamaica this year which I think has finally exhausted my inventiveness as it contains every single method of escape and every variety of suspenseful action that I had omitted from my previous books—in fact everything except the kitchen sink, and if you can think up a good plot involving kitchen sinks, please send it along speedily.”
Having seen an advertisement in Vogue in the US on his travels with the slogan “A Diamond is Forever” he settled on a title.
Having previously travelled to the US on board the RMS Queen Elizabeth, the author chose to set the climax to the novel on that ship as Bond and Case return to the UK from America. This scene was very, very lightly adapted for the movie but plays out nothing like it does on film.
Fleming never included dates in any of his novels, however, John Griswold and Henry Chancellor write for Ian Fleming Publications and have used things mentioned in the novel to date the story. Chancellor says 1954 and Griswold says the story is set in July and August 1953.
Right Idea Mr Bond… But Wrong Pussy
Stark: Weakest movie in the entire series for me. I nearly dislike it. I have frequently had the theory that Bond is like pizza or sex. Even when it’s not that great, it was actually good and you are glad you had it. This movie comes close to breaking that theory.
For that reason as well I was pretty cold on this book for a long time. Read it once, maybe twice back in the 80’s and hadn’t picked it up again since then. My disdain was a bit like Bond’s in the book. As well as remembering I didn’t much like the movie, every time I picked it up I read the dust jacket and all about gangsters and The Spangled Mob and went “Meh!” and went back to reading about SMERSH and international espionage against the old enemy to the East.
Run: This is a weird book and there is a lot about that is just bizarre. I mention two of these things up front because they are just details that left me completely baffled. First, Fleming basically refers to rape as a minor crime or a misdemeanor.
Then a little bit later on he gets a little overboard with this thing about “bourbon and branch water” where the only way the properly drink bourbon is to mix it with water from the mouth of a river. 007 gets hung up on this last detail so strongly he makes sure to ask the bartenders in Las Vegas what river the water used came from. The whole thing is just odd. Maybe in 1953 people did this but it seemed strange to me.
Stark: I think that’s just part of Fleming. He does the detail about the finer things, which is where Bond gets it from, and that translates to the slightly “Know-It-All” Bond we get in the movies. Wait until you get to the in-depth descriptions of Bond’s perfect breakfast! Fleming certainly liked things “just so” and that comes across in Bond too.
Run: I was watching Our Man Flint the other day, which is a parody of Bond, He’s like an amplified version of Bond in every way, especially being an expert in everything. He remarks that he is still on “Moscow time” from being at the ballet. His boss is in disbelief that he went all the way to Russia just to watch the ballet. Disgusted he looks at him and says “Not to watch, to teach!”
Stark: So it was practically a brand new set of eyes that I read this book with. Didn’t remember anything about it from early reads. Well… it’s OK!
Run: Yeah. I think a lot of the stuff in the middle/end except for the horse race part are just odd. I think it starts off pretty strong and Fleming’s prose is much better to me at least.
However, the guy writes some of the most inauthentic American dialogue I’ve ever read. The one that really stuck out like a sore thumb to me was Ernie Cureo. This guy is some Mexican cab driver in Las Vegas and he’s dropping the word “Daft” constantly. There are other examples but that’s the one that stuck out to me.
All of the stuff with the Old West style town was weird to me too. Wint and Kidd’s gimp hoods were another one that was an odd choice. Also, Shady Tree looking like Disney’s Hunchback of Norte Dame instead of some old dude was a little jarring.
Overall I think the story was good but there were definitely some things that just seemed out of place like the ones I mentioned.
Stark: I think he writes American dialogue, especially wiseguys, the way any snobby, upper-class Englishman would. Same, I guess, as when an American writes a snobby Brit it’s all “Old chap!” and “Oh, I say!”
Run: Absolutely. I’m trying to knock the guy or anything but as a Yank it sticks out like a sore thumb.
Stark: Bond’s character gets quite a lot of development in this book, I thought, building on Moonraker. You get a sense of deep friendship with Leiter, appearing with a hook hand and fake leg following the shark-related events of Live And Let Die. Bond seems to have a sense of pain and regret about what happened to Tiffany Case.
Run: In all 4 of the books we’ve discussed so far Bond comes off like a man desperate to be in love. Vesper, Solitaire, Gala, and Tiffany. He seemed like less of a playboy than in the movies. But he’s also a cold-blooded killer.
Stark: He certainly doesn’t f**k about it either. You get a sense of what a dangerous man he can be in this. After being dismissive of the mafia as beneath him, he soon wisens up but doesn’t really show any fear.
Run: Right. I like the investigative aspects in this one. All of the stuff with the diamond and cash pipeline and how the operation worked were the best parts of the book to me. How only of a portion of the payment was given and then the rest would be given either via a fixed horse race or a rigged roulette table.
Stark: Brutal in his dealings with Wint and Kidd on the cruise ship too. No comedy aftershave memories and camp shrieking here. Straight up faked murder/suicide. An assassin.
Run: That was a good part too. I’d argue these two characters are even weirder than their movie counterparts. Gimp hoods, weird codes using American football calls to tell them how to move around the room, etc.
Stark: Certainly don’t see them being anywhere near as creepily camp as they are in the movie. No Blofield either, and the book is better for it. The ending in Spectreville, the fake Old Western Town that the mob has was much more direct and final. The oil-rig scene in the movie always felt cheap to me.
Run: To quote Austin Powers “All my movies end this way, baby!”
Stark: It was only on re-reading this that I realised that Bond ends it in the novel by pulling off the impossible shot at a moving vehicle, in Spectreville. Maybe that’s where the ending of Spectre got it from? Bond bringing down the helicopter with the impossible shot? Never thought of it before.
Run: I thought that sequence with the train was the best part of that Old West portion of the book.
Stark: From Russia With Love next. And still quite a long, long way from S.P.E.C.T.R.E. making their first appearance in the books. Plus we have the small matter of a short-story collection before then in the form of For Your Eyes Only. How do we handle that? Technically five Bond stories in there!
Run: I don’t know, do we want to do all the novels chronologically first and then the short stories at the end? Does it make sense to do that. It puts off how we handle that for a good while.
Stark: I think I am still two books ahead so I will stop now and let you catch up! By the time we get to the introduction to S.P.E.C.T.R.E. and beyond it’s important to stay in order, as the stories all interconnect, so better stick to the publishing order.
So, will Run ever catch up? Will Stark have the patience to wait for him? Will they ever get to S.P.E.C.T.R.E. ? Will they even finish this series of articles? The suspense is killing us! Tune in next time for From Russia With Love.