The year is 1971. Lazenby has quit the role of James Bond. (And I hope he fired his agent for that advice.) Connery is back for one last go around.
This time, the battleground is Vegas. Blofeld is a bored English Aristocrat. And Jill St. John shows a lot of cheek.
The premise: After killing Blofeld – at least he thinks so – Bond is sent after a diamond smuggling ring. Trouble is members of the ring are being killed as a shipment of diamonds makes its way from South Africa through Holland to Vegas. Bond poses as smuggler Peter Franks, whom he kills when Franks escapes MI6 custody, and takes his place getting the diamonds to Vegas. The trail leads to reclusive billionaire Willard Whyte (a less mental version of Howard Hughes.) Only Whyte’s reclusiveness has let the not-so-late Ernst Stavro Blofeld take over his empire and use it to build a diamond-powered satellite. The goal? Blow up nuclear missiles until the superpowers pay him…
$100 billion. (Cue pinky to the mouth.)
The first five minutes are a direct reference to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, which ends with Blofeld killing Tracy Bond in a drive-by. Bond is traveling the world trying to beat and strangle the location of Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Where OHMSS ended with Lazenby’s best moment, Bond sobbing over the death of his new wife, Connery returns to the Bond role as an avenging angel, coupling his violence with a calm, even question: Where’s Blofeld. Blofeld is busy making doubles of himself, all of whom apparently look like the narrator from Rocky Horror Picture Show, still four year into the future at this point. Then we jump into the diamond smuggling plot. As a British banker explains to Bond about how diamonds are used in the British economy, we see scenes of Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd killing off links in the chain. Bond is then assigned to assume the role of Peter Franks, diamond smuggler, and meet up with Tiffany Case, the next link in the chain.
Vegas becomes the main focal point of the story at this point. Most of SPECTRE’s operatives are the gangsters of the 1970s, tired middle-aged and old men of dubious intelligence. They threaten. They yell, Sometimes, they manage complete sentences.
Connery is okay in this one, but you can tell both he and the franchise are getting tired. They switched Bonds, then switched back. Once more, Blofeld’s appearance and personality change. Telly Savalas was a reasonable replacement for Donald Pleasence, but Charles Gray, while my favorite Blofeld, isn’t the bald menace of the previous two movies (or the guy Roger Moore dumps down a smokestack later.) Nonetheless, he’s kind of like Palpatine in the Star Wars movies, the sort of mad villain who enjoys creating excesses.
The gadgets are starting to take over as both Blofeld and Q use a voice altering device. Q also walks through Circus Circus with a magnet he uses to force the slot machines to give up their riches. And Bond leads a car chase in a moon buggy.
Country singer and sausage mogul Jimmy Dean is terrific as the reclusive billionaire whose eccentric behavior allows Blofeld to take over his company. He is guarded by two athletic woman named Bambi and Thumper. Their fight with Bond is hilarious and maybe a bit too much.
Like the late Moore films and Brosnan’s last movie, the changing of the Bond often marks a point where EON needs to find a new approach to the series. The sixties, with its Rat Pack cool and easy machismo, are over. What does Bond mean for the seventies?
Roger Moore tries to answer that in Live and Let Die.