Again, rating the secondary henchmen as opposed to ALL the henchmen, I went with:
You Only Live Twice (Hans) over Goldfinger (Kisch)
From Russia With Love (Morzeny) over No Time To Die (Logan Ash)
Diamonds Are Forever (Peter Franks) over Live And Let Die (Whisper)
Thunderball (Vargas) over On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (Grunther)
For Your Eyes Only (Erich Kriegler) over Casino Royale (Kratt)
Moonraker (Chang) over Licence To Kill (Perez)
Octopussy (Mischka & Grischka) over SPECTRE (Marco Sciarra)
The Spy Who Loved Me (Sandor) over Skyfall (Chimera Captain & Chimera Crewmen)
Bambi & Thumper
Anonymous gangsters from a 1930’s Warner Bros. pic
Doctor who gets scorpioned
Unnamed supporting character doing the countdown on the oil rig (and continuing despite the incoming attack)
And the cherry on the top of this cinematic sundae: Bond impersonating, not one, but two of these supporting characters as he carries out his mission!
I know you are fonder of the film than I am. Its rampant racism makes it hard to watch for me. I know Hamilton/Mankiewicz were trying to merge Bond with a Blaxploitation aesthetic, but they both knew so little about Black culture/mores of the 1970’s, that they did not alter the toxic Black tropes that Hollywood cinema had churned out for decades. Compare Rosie Carver to Coffy or Cleopatra Jones (both 1973) in terms of the portrayal of Black women, and you see how LALD fails to re-think Black representation, and just repeats what came before, now in 1970’s costuming.
Can one fail in something if evidently never setting out to do it at all? The retrospective imposition of any such responsibility makes me an appalling astronaut, although an unexpectedly absolutely tremendous father.
I agree with Jim, and not because I fear becoming a sideswipe.
A Bond film was (and still is) subject to other limits than the so-called blaxploitation films were at that time. EON wanted to cast a black actress as Solitaire but was warned that the film would then not be shown in most of Middle America. LALD is as courageous as it could be at that time, in order to be a worldwide blockbuster.
Something it desperately needed to be. The fact that EON did not choose anything which would have been much safer (also in all the ways the new Bond was introduced) still shows how little they actually risked in comparison with Casino Royale.
But by using/invoking the tropes of Blaxploitation cinema, LALD did put itself on the path of re-thinking Black representation, since that is the purpose of that set of tropes. Why bother to use them otherwise (and Mankiewicz has said that was part of the film’s design)? It would be like using the tropes of the Western or film noir or melodrama, and then not making a Western or a film noir or a melodrama. If the intent is to make a meta-commentary film, one can take this route, but as SAF points out, EON was seeking to make
EON was (to quote SAF again)
but its timidity caused it to use the tropes, but strip them of the narrative context in which they were developed and used. So instead of a Black character fighting powerful white interests, it was a white character fighting powerful Black interests, while at the same time rescuing white maidenhood from Black male sexuality. As SAF says, EON wanted something that would play in Middle America, and a movie with a white hero who stands up to and defeats Black power, and is also the victor in a white woman/Black male/white male triangle is catnip for that audience.
If as you say Mr Mankiewicz is on record that there was any other purpose than $ then yes, it’s open to the accusation of failure, and may well be just as bad as Diamonds are Forever with that film’s considerably more successful depiction of every American character in it as a cretin.
Agreed–they thought it might help with the box office by being contemporary (but not too contemporary, since, as SAF pointed out, EON wanted the movie to play in Middle America).
He has said he wanted to combine the Bond narrative with the Blaxploitation aesthetic (again, a choice that makes sense for both monetary and artistic reasons–nothing is monocausal). LALD fails because he and Hamilton cherry-picked the elements they were going to use (remember: Middle America)–their embrace was half-hearted, dictated by what would fit with having the hero of the film a British white guy. They ornamented a Bond narrative with Blaxploitation tropes, which caused the now-unanchored tropes to come off as racist since they are no longer embedded in the Black narrative from which they arose.
DAF is racist in a different way. The Zambora sideshow attraction was an actual attraction at Circus Circus in Las Vegas, so it and its racism are part of the look-at-how-ugly-it-all-is attitude the film takes toward America. The film then turns around with Bambi and Thumper, offering an interracial pair of lesbians who best Bond until…well, they have to lose for the film to continue. The film ends up simultaneously chronicling and being repulsed by American society in 1971. DAF saw what the culture was becoming (pink ties are sold to this day), and was both fascinated and appalled/confused by it (it is Hamilton’s American version of his earlier THE PARTY’S OVER ). DAF is as much a commentary on 1970’s America as Popeye Doyle, another icon of 1971, is
Hamilton’s gimlet eye (with its touch of documentarian coolness) was perfect for DAF. It was less suited to LALD.
That is the prism through which you view Bond movies, and it works for you.
But there are other lens that bring in other considerations/aesthetics.
Common enough routine, though, for them. They did it with Moonraker, without making a science fiction film (it’s Science Fact!), they did it with The Man with the Golden Gun without making a Kung-Fu film and they did it with Die Another Day without making a James Bond film.
I don’t think they mock this Blaxploitation stuff (I appreciate this is not your point) to the degree that the Japanese are ridiculed in You Only Live Twice, but I have not seen enough of it to assess; what I have seen, and only prompted to do so by Live and Let Die, is pretty feeble so even myself as one of the international beige persuasion, I think they could have turned out something much, much more dodgy. Why would - or should - it be immune from the Bond series and its characteristic arthritic leaping onto a bandwagon?
I can see the more nuanced point that helping one’s self to a selection box of a specific cultural emanations associated solely with a particular ethnicity, in order to line one’s pocket, is at the very least a deeply cynical enterprise, but these are deeply cynical productions. There are other explanations for the longevity of the series.
Ten years later, Octopussy hoves into view and it’s effortlessly more dismissive of everyone alive save Mighty Whitey.
I am confident that my boiler is, although saying that the local press did describe its recent Jakubowska retrospective as “naive”, so fair enough
That I did not know (not the racism bit; knew that). Gorillas in the mise-en-scene, I s’pose.
Diamonds are Forever is a rip-off of screwball/gangster films - Some Like it Tepid - and helps itself to a number of those tropes without losing “James Bond wins”. A mockumentary, at best.
This is surely the same with defeating Dr Kananga, who is not as mocked as these two. Interesting, though: I never considered them lesbians, more that Thumper was Bambi’s helper ( the hat is a giveaway that she suffers considerable mental imbalance).
Absolutely. James Bond hates white people because he has killed thousands of them.
Sure, one can argue that his dogged devotion to Her Majesty’s Secret Service includes a blind eye to every disgrace done in Her name, and some villains do make fun of him being just a dumb little soldier following orders.
But the movie Bond character is set up as the knight in shining armour, saving the world from all the bad guys who either want WWIII or money or a new population of species they so obviously would not fit in with.
Was LALD the first Bond to jump on a trend, plunder it without really following its ideas? Maybe. The source material had been plundered by that point, too, so there was no other way to go.
One could even argue that after OHMSS the originality of the series was done, and every following Bond film was just more or less good at juggling and mixing the previous ingredients.
Agreed. The Bond franchise reached/reaches out in many directions to many genres. The issue is that, as a consequence of how they are first generated, tropes have various nuances/obstacles regarding their incorporation into Bond world (or any world for that matter). A Warner Bros. gangster trope is an easier lift than a Blaxploitation trope.
Exactly. That is a different manifestation of racism.
I do not think it should be immune. Just if you choose to do it: be aware of the nuances.
Agreed, but any cynicism contained in the making of the work does not insulate it from critique. It is one thing to be cynical, and another to be cynical and racist/sexist/etc.
I never thought of it that way, but you are right (though I prefer pastiche to rip-off).
What a nice way to put it: DAF is Bond film, as well as its own mockumentary. Akin to my notion of the movie being a failed Bond film. DAF’s splendid sparkle only increases.
I have always seen them that way.
Agreed. But over time, increasing attention was paid to who this knight was tilting against. When he was first written, any Bond enemy was (basically) a universally agreed upon baddie. Same with the early films.
But over the course of the franchise, the specifics of the baddies were examined more closely. This happened not just with Bond films, but across the aesthetic spectrum. It was now a question of both a) what the baddies were trying to do; and b) what characteristics they possessed. This shift rendered the knight-versus-baddie prism increasingly ahistorical, compounded by the fact that both the fiction and the films were so conscious of their historical moment when they were created.
As I was writing my response to Jim, I thought something similar, and here, once again, you have arrived at the insight first.
The novels are the template that stand behind the first six films. But by April 1971 when DAF goes into production, the world had moved a significant distance away from the Fleming universe. A strength of the novels is how they reflect the moment when they were written, but when they were turned into movies, the films were not conceived as period pieces.
The only component from the novels carried over from the fiction (as if by mandate) is that Bond must win (except once, when he both wins and dies). This allows the films to be of their moment, and both juggle and mix previous elements (SAF), and help themselves to tropes from all over the place (Jim).
But OHMSS does seem to be an inflection point–afterward, Fleming’s world is very much in the rearview mirror, and going forward, the mandated Bond victory will be merged with whatever tropes are close to hand, with an eye on their aesthetic utility, and box office appeal (cynical, but realistic). This is how we end up with, for example, angsty Bond–he still wins, but has all sorts of feelings about having done so (something knights-in-shining-armor are free of).
Fleming plundered (h/t) reality to give ballast to his fantastic stories. The movies plundered other movies and their cultural moment to entertain audiences with the familiar; stay relevant; and make money.
I think it’s fair to criticise elements of LALD as racist (though it’s not so egregious as the novel), but if anything I’d say the overused label of “appropriation” would apply. EON saw black filmmakers making inroads at the box office and said, “Hey, we need to get in on some of that.” Hopping onto the Star Wars gravy train is one thing – just good old fashioned greed – but white guys (from an English production company) making a blaxploitation film seems to cross another line entirely, and in its way is about as cynical as EON ever got.
That said, I don’t think Rosie Carver is the best example to make the point. Aside from the superstition angle, I don’t know that there’s all that much to peg her as a “Hollywood black” caricature as opposed to yet another dimbulb female. If anything, I’d call Mankiewicz a misogynist before I called him a racist. When your strongest female character is Tiffany Case for God’s sake, you obviously have a few things to answer for. Solitaire is a mental 8-year-old in a woman’s body and soon enough Mary Goodnight will be along to make her and Rosie look like Mensa candidates. The color of the actress is almost incidental: Rosie is first and foremost just another Mankiewicz moron.
I did not write about that angle, but there was clearly no connection between Hamilton/Mankiewicz and the material. At least with DAF, there was disdain crossed with “oh-no-they-didn’t.” Also, Blaxploitation has a pulp sensibility, which is alien to Moore Bond (and to the franchise in general).
The problem is that a Black “dimbulb female” pulls in the culture’s concepts about the lack of intelligence among Black people.Rosie is a twofer–sexist and racist. Movies had just produced Coffy and Cleopatra Jones, so the retreat is intense.
I hope we can amend this phrase to “Tom Mankiewicz moron.” His father Joseph L. was among the most progressive directors in Classical Hollywood with regard to depicting gender/sex/race. NO WAY OUT and ALL ABOUT EVE (both 1950) remain pinnacles of cinema, and he gave us in CLEOPATRA (in the words of Herve Dumont): “indisputably the most adult and most intelligent peplum in the history of cinema.”