Friday, June 26, 2009

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Casting Coup: Diamonds Are Forever

I have been awful about keeping up with Bond Month. It's been a whole eleven days since my last post. Good Lord, doing this in the middle of a busy thesis cycle was not the best idea I've had. But I guess another part of it was my reluctance to get into Diamonds Are Forever, a novel which I remembered mainly for the boredom I felt while reading it.

But how unfair that is! For during a reread of it, I realized that Diamonds Are Forever has one of the better character arcs for a Bond Girl. Tiffany Case, simplified into a ditzy (borderline retarded) bimbo in the film, is interesting in that she is only one of three Fleming-era Bond Girls to actually matter to Bond. She's a tough gal, the victim of a vicious gang rape when she was sixteen, an event that left her uninterested in men. Until Bond, of course, who actually comes off as a sweetheart in this one. He's naive to the way things work in non-tropical America, underestimates his opponents, and tries to resist falling for Tiffany because he doesn't want to use her feelings as a way to plumb for information.

The main plot is sort of interesting: Bond is assigned to close a pipeline of diamond smuggling from South Africa to the United States. The main villains are forgettable, twin brothers who smuggle diamonds or whatever. The henchman are the more interesting characters this time around, including homosexual hitmen Wint and Kidd and hunchbacked between-man Shady Tree. This is also the first look we get of Felix Leiter after the shark attack in Live and Let Die. Outfitted with a false leg and hook, Leiter is no longer with the CIA, but an employee of Pinkertons Detective Agency. Still kick-ass, though.

Diamonds Are Forever is also one of the few novels that could work just as well in the present as it did back then. No need to change things around to accomodate this Bond, no need to up the stakes to reflect the 21st Century -- just a simple smuggling scheme that Bond must stop. True, there are none of the diamond satellites of the film, nor is there a Blofeld in drag. But I guess those are sacrifices I'll have to make.

Featuring: James Bond, Felix Leiter, M, Miss Moneypenny, Loelia Ponsonby, Ronnie Vallance (for more on these characters, check here and here)

Who is He: One of Vallance's men. He takes Bond to London's House of Diamonds to meet the mysterious Rufus B. Saye. Dankwaerts, an expert on diamonds, soon realizes that Saye, head honcho of the H of D, knows either very little or absolutely nothing at all abotu diamonds -- just whether or not they sell.

My Choice:

Danny Webb (Valkyrie, The Upside of Anger)
Talented, but not well-known, so he's undistracting. He could play up the smug revelation beautifully.

Who is He: A cab driver working with Leiter. He becomes Bond's ally and personal driver in Las Vegas, though he is hospitalized after a car wreck that leads to Bond's kidnapping.

My Choice:

Erik Estrada (TV's CHiPS, TV's Sealab 2021)
Estrada can sell the charm and regular guy-ness Ernie possesses. He looks like he can be comfortable in any situation, whether it be driving Bond, hoodwinking hoodlums, hospitalized. Ernie gets a lot of quick-witted dialogue, too, and I feel Estrada is a man who can really clip a sentence.

Who is He: A high-pitched, hunchbacked go-between for the diamond operation. He gets the goods from Bond before sending him off to receive "payment" via the racetrack. When Leiter exposes the fix, Shady then sends Bond to Las Vegas to gamble the money back. And of course, what better casino to play at than Mr. Spang's?

Originally played by:

Leonard Barr, stand-up comedian and Dean Martin's uncle

My Choice:

Roger Bart (Hercules, The Insider)
Really, it's his confrontation with Russell Crowe in American Gangster that convinced me. It's that nice balance of high-pitched annoyance and Napoleonic bitchery that is so Shady Tree. Bart could get the humor and daft creepiness of a hunchbacked tough guy who drinks milk.

Who Are They: Two of the most vicious hitmen Bond has gone up against. Wint is the large, fat killer who sucks on a wart on his thumb. He relishes the torture aspect of his job. Like, say, pouring 115-degree mud onto the face of a jockey who displeased the Spangs. Or pistol-whipping a locker room attendant. Or getting out steel-toed boots to kick and stomp Bond. Kidd is silent, but just as deadly. His eyes are soulless and merciless. Partners in crime and in the bedroom, Wint and Kidd truly two of the most dangerous men to ever appear in Bond lore.

Originally played by:

Bruce Glover as Mr. Wint, Putter Smith as Mr. Kidd

My Choices: A familiar face for Mr. Wint; for Mr. Kidd, a Golden Globe Nominee for Best Supporting Actor (To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar), SAG Award Nominee for Best Ensemble (Moulin Rouge!)

Chi McBride (Let's Go to Prison, The Frighteners) as Mr. Wint
Tall and imposing, I can see McBride cruelly taking people down a peg or six. He'd provide a great opponent for Bond.

John Leguizamo (Romeo + Juliet, Spawn) as Mr. Kidd
Small and danerous-looking, I could just as easily see Leguizamo watching McBride do his thing with amusement before taking part in the murder. Good Lord, look at him. He's got a killer's smile.

Who is She: A beautiful blonde who helps smuggle diamonds for Spang. She is thought to be the girlfriend of Seraffimo Spang, the brother who runs things in Vegas. She finds herself reluctantly falling for James Bond. As 007 describes, she is the type of girl who listens to romantic French songs alone in her room while looking at herself in the mirror. One of the sadder, braver, and best Bond Girls in the series.

Originally played by:

Jill St. John, who made redheads boring, and that is truly unforgivable

My Choice: Academy Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actress (Pulp Fiction), BAFTA Award Nominee for Best Actress (Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill: Vol.1), Golden Globe Nominee for Best Actress in a Drama (Kill Bill: Vol. 1, Kill Bill: Vol. 2) and Best Supporting Actress (Pulp Fiction), SAG Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actress (Pulp Fiction)

Uma Thurman (Batman & Robin, Dangerous Liaisons)
Beautiful. Badass. Bond Girl. These are all words we should use to describe her (certainly Tarantino thought so). We know she can play tough, be damn cool in a crisis (that line courtesy Easy Virtue), fight with the best. We also know that she is stunning and has such sad eyes sometimes. The chemistry her and Chewie would possess together is just too delicious to consider!

Who Are They: Twin brothers who run the Spangled Mob, the gang smuggling diamonds from South Africa to the United States. Jack is the brains of the operation, running the House of Diamonds in London under the name Rufus B. Saye. He also gives Tiffany anonymous instructions over the phone under the name ABC. Seraffimo runs the casino in Vegas. He is abusive and sadistic, but also obsessed with Westerns. So much, in fact, that he actually buys an old ghost town and a locomotive of his own to play cowboy in. He is seriously crazy.The twins are broad but stumpy, speaking with stereotypical Gangster accents while dressing impeccably.

My Choice: Okay, are you ready for this?
This is the face that immediately popped up when the character of Jack Spang was first introduced.
Academy Award Winner for Best Director (The Departed), BAFTA Award Winner for Best Film (Goodfellas), Best Direction (Goodfellas) and Best Adapted Screenplay (Goodfellas), DGA Award Winner for Best Director (The Departed), Golden Globe Winner for Best Director (Gangs of New York, The Departed), WGA Award Nominee for Best Original Screenplay (Mean Streets) and Best Adapted Screenplay (Goodfellas), Hollmann Award Nominee for Best Director (The Departed)

Martin Scorsese (Akira Kurosawa's Dreams, Quiz Show)
Scorsese isn't that bad on-screen. Oozing capitalistic malevolence in Quiz Show, reflecting the artistic temperament in Dreams, scaring the bejeezus out of me in Taxi Driver, Scorsese is underused as an actor, I feel. Him as a Bond villain only makes sense, and that manic way of speaking he has could only add so much to the crazed, Western-obsessed Seraffimo. A heavy worthy of the fight.

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