Friday, March 30, 2007

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Hazzard-ous Thinking

“How’d you like to spend the night in the Morgue?” – One of them Duke boys to the other.

Yes, The Rued Morgue has hit an all-time low by pontificating on not only The Dukes of Hazzard, but also a straight-to-DVD Hazzard movie. It’s not too late to back out if you choose.

Like many a dude my age, I spent a lot of time watching the Duke boys thwart Boss Hogg and Sheriff Rosco back in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. Now don’t get me wrong – I didn’t enjoy those countless misspent hours, but the show was sandwiched between The Incredible Hulk and Dallas. What was I to do? Friday night TV was all about that CBS block of programming and I was just goin’ with the flow. (Check out this programming grid from 1980 to see the even lamer alternatives. Bear in mind – I was 9.)

And so two years ago prevailing nostalgia mixed with a smattering of grim fascination led me to the movie theatre with buddy Bart (who’s my age and went through the same routines back in the day) and then 12-year old son Jake (for whom I’d screened a few of the TV installments so he’d have an idea of what not to expect). What might Jessica Simpson bring to the legacy of Dukedom? Needless to say, both Bart and I were totally annoyed by the entire affair. What was mildly surprising is that even Jake, based on what little he’d seen of the original, thought the retread was weak.

The real problem with that film is a matter of simple character dynamics. It ignored the basic formula that worked for years: Bo, Luke and Daisy Duke (John Schneider, Tom Wopat and Catherine Bach), despite being good ol’ country bumpkins, were actually pretty sharp individuals. Their smarts and skills came in handy when foiling the typically ridiculous plans of Boss Hogg (Sorrell Booke) and Sheriff Coltrane (James Best) – both of whom were comical numbnuts[1].

The movie reversed this entirely by making the Dukes a couple of idiotic buffoons – presumably to play up on the comedic “talents” of stars Seann William Scott & Johnny Knoxville. By contrast, Burt Reynolds’ Hogg and M.C. Gainey’s Coltrane were ruthless villains who weren’t even remotely amusing or fun to watch. The third of the film’s offenses was the recreation of Daisy into a vapid bimbo who had only one thing to rely on—wait a minute…make that two things. If you were ever any kind of Hazzard devotee, chances are you hated this film, too. But I don’t think the movie was made for people like me. Indeed the casting suggests otherwise and the film’s box office take (over $80 mill!) and popularity proved that you can’t keep a good Duke down, no matter how shitty the material.

Which leads me to the straight-to-DVD prequel, unoriginally titled The Dukes of Hazzard: The Beginning. Hopefully you are wondering: Did he actually rent this shitty movie and if so, why? Yes I did and because two words hit like lightning bolts to the head upon seeing the DVD cover: Blog Entry.

But it turns out that The Beginning is not really a shitty movie -- or least not nearly as shitty as its predecessor, a fact that quite frankly floored me. Its overall tone has far more in common with the original series and it’s actually got the vague semblance of something that looks like a script, which is about the most that can be asked given the material that inspired it.

It mind-bogglingly gets some things very correct. One of them is the casting of Harland Williams as Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane. If you know Harland Williams, you know that there’s no way in Hazzard Hell his Coltrane is anything like M. C. Gainey’s -- an actor, by the way, whom I generally (General Lee?) like. But I like Harland for very different reasons and he was an inspired choice, although he’s admittedly something of an acquired taste. He’s a weird comic actor whose shtick is pretty much unlike anyone else’s (one of his great performances was the whacked-out hitchhiker Ben Stiller picked up in There’s Something About Mary and before that there was Half Baked…). If you like Williams, you will like his Coltrane, regardless of whatever else you may think of the movie. It may even be worth the price of admission alone to watch him attempt all manner of weirdness whilst perpetually holding onto a basset hound puppy (the young Flash), and a DVD bonus feature centered around Williams may be more entertaining than the movie itself.

Second on the roster of semi-rightness is April Scott’s Daisy Duke. Unlike what was written for Simpson she actually has (gasp!) a character with which to work. As this is an origin story of sorts, Daisy’s supposed to be virginal and chaste in the first half -- which is portrayed in the typically banal Hollywood fashion of dressing her in loose-fitting clothing, pony-tailed hair and nerdy eyeglasses, all of which completely fail to disguise the hottie-in-waiting beneath. When she finally dons her tight-fittin’ jeanshorts, the results owe far more to Catherine Bach than the ex-Mrs. Lachey. Make no mistake – Scott’s in no danger of having to carve out time to polish an Oscar in the foreseeable future, but then again Bach was hardly Meryl Streep. Daisy is as Daisy does and at least this Daisy’s got long brown locks to match her long tanned legs. Those hoping to get a glimpse of Scott in the buff will have to look elsewhere.

Joel Moore’s Cooter bears no resemblance to Ben Jones’ character from the series, and yet I couldn’t help but dig on what this guy was doing. He’s projects a genuine sort of "redneck eccentricity" and delivers dialogue that would’ve fallen flat coming out of a lesser actor’s mouth. You might remember Moore as the main character’s best bud Bardo in Art School Confidential. I’ve not seen much of this guy’s other work, but I predict he’s headed for much bigger places within the next couple years.

So where does the film go wrong? The movie smacks of two film worlds colliding: Hazzard county circa 1981 were it invaded by a sorority party from your average modern teen sex comedy. I viewed the unrated version, which features a fair amount of exposed tit and ass, none of which advance the “plot”. Normally I’d say the more the merrier, but in this case it smacks of gratuitousness. I’d hazard a guess that the R-rated version is actually a better Dukes movie if you’re looking for fare that might take you back in time rather than keeping you in the here and now. But if you're just looking for rampant, exposed sweater meat, you should probably check out the unrated cut.

In between what the movie gets right and wrong is everything else. Relative unknowns Jonathan Bennett and Randy Wayne play Bo and Luke respectively (and a quick glance at their IMDB profiles oddly reveals their hair colors were reversed for the movie). They’re both just sorta there, and do what they’re called upon to do, which is be Duke boys. It’s too easy to romanticize what Schneider and Wopat did back in the day, and such idealization only comes from years of amassed screentime. These new guys get all of 90 minutes to make an impression -- at their best they help erase the stink of the Bo and Luke from the theatrical outing.

Christopher McDonald, forever cast as the smarmy asshole, plays a decent Hogg. His portrayal exists in a sort of neverwhere between Reynolds and Booke: sometimes he’s ruthless and smart and other times he’s a total boob. He’s at least been given a bit of tubby padding to accentuate his Hoggness, however I remain stymied by the continued failure to just cast a fat guy in the role. Surely this is a no-brainer, right? Perhaps the biggest surprise was the presence of little Miss Audrey Horne herself, Sherilyn Fenn, as Hogg’s oversexed MILF of a wife Lulu who subs for Stifler's Mom. I’d be tempted to apply “What a desperate actor will do for money” to Fenn, if not for the fact Willie Nelson wins that award. Uncle Jesse is the lone link to the '05 movie -- proof that anyone can get Willie for their movie if the price is right.

Above all else, due credit’s got to be given to screenwriter Shane Morris, whose IMDB resume reveals the film as his only credit. The guy is either a fan or did a fair amount of homework and for the most part gets the series’ mythology (so to speak) right. In fact, one of the script’s twists involves the reveal of the concealed lineage of a particular character – but viewers who know their Duke trivia will see it coming. (It cannot be stressed enough exactly how low my expectations were going into this thing.) He also peppers the script with one down home colloquialism after another – some work, some don’t, but he probably did his best given what he had to work with. I’d imagine most of the titty action was even shoehorned into the script over the course of various meetings with producers and the like, as it tends to lack the focus of the rest of the movie.

[1] An inane, useless, “allow me to split the world into two categories” theory: There are two types of people who watched The Dukes of Hazzard – the type who tuned in for Bo, Luke and Daisy and the type who tuned in for the amazing comic double-act of Hogg and Rosco; I was always in the second category. It’s possible there’s a third category who tuned in for the plots, but I’d like to believe natural selection has taken care of them and they no longer exist.

And now, for those of you who've stuck with me through this ordeal, here's a completely gratuituous shot of April Scott sans her Daisy Dukes:

(I hunted for sexy pics of Harland Williams for the ladies, but alas they were nowhere to be found.)

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The Rued Manifesto


The cats at Liverputty are currently inviting select bloggers to submit "manifestos", which strikes me as brave and bold given where it could end up. (I expect government intervention at any time.) The concept is as it sounds:

manifesto, n.: A public declaration of principles, policies, or intentions, especially of a political nature.

Wagstaff created the first Manifesto over a year ago. It stood strong, proud and solitary for ages -- mostly, I believe, because it intimidated the crap out of anyone who read it.

Earlier this month The Dude, feeling crushed for nearly 12 months by the sheer weight of Wag's mantra, unveiled a whole new way of living life on this sordid rock.

Days later, EscutcheonBlot provided a European point of view. E.B. predicted stupid American after another would chime in. As ideas are global and all, this was a wise move.

By now, momentum had built and the blogosphere was reaching a boiling point.

And then a certain solid waste hit a certain spinning device attached to a certain ceiling when -- yep, you guessed it: The Odienator told it like it really was. If you are reading this at work and can't afford public embarrassment, I recommend checking out Odie's thoughts at home. There you can self-flagellate in private, finally seeing the error of your many ways, bitch.

On Monday, Edward Copeland seemingly announced, "Fuck this. You guys haven't a clue" by inferring everyone else had been far too lenient in their declarations. There are many lessons you've yet to learn, grasshopper; I'll save you the trouble on one: Don't screw with Ethel Merman fans -- ever.

Thinking I might provide a pompous document worth heckling or poking varieties of holes into, and a talkback that could appear impressive due to my pathetic, numerous rebuttals, Liverputty invited yours truly to join the project.

Today The Rued Manifesto makes its debut at Liverputty. Personally, I think it's soft and flabby compared to those who laid the groundwork. My biggest problem is that I'm too nice a guy and I let everyone slide (which I realize as I type, should have been part of the Manifesto).

You dear readers are my judge and jury -- but take serious issue with anything I have to say[1], and you're invited to piss off and get your free entertainment from either FoxNews or'cuz last time I checked your name wasn't on any paycheck to be found in my mailbox.

Cherish or ignore it (I don't give a fuck either way): behold The Rued Manifesto.


The latest from the Liverputty Manifestival...

Charlie Parsley's Menufesto: Read the most bizarre manifesto yet -- the one to which I could only respond "Baz Luhrmann needs to write a tune to go along with [this]".

Jeffrey's Manifesto: King Liverputty himself has finally taken the leap. Most fascinating is the intro -- a breakdown of each previous manifesto into percentages of what he agreed and disagreed with along the way! The Rued Manifesto scored "Agree – 55%; Disagree – 26%; Don’t Know – 19%" on the Jeffometer; Parsley's Menufesto, however, scored a Disagree - 100%!

Lastly, be sure to check out the comments section of this entry to see Sheik Yerbootie's Manifesto, which contains this priceless gem: Watching movies in a theatre is an exercise in futility. Oh, the horror!!!

[1] The "Aunt Bee" comment is negotiable.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Wet Pussy in Heat

I have a burning desire that's really more of a cruel mean streak: I crave the exciting rush of dousing a neighborhood cat in heat with a pail of cold water. Any horny cat will do.

We have them all the time around our house, usually late at night. Presumably they hang around our place because of our cats. I don't know much about horny cats - can they even tell if other cats they're crying at are male or female? (I've got one of each outside and a third male who's totally indoor.) Because ours are all fixed they tend to somewhat quizzically stare at these screeching creatures. When confronted by these obnoxious beasts, my cats think, "Get over yourself" or "I'm not the 'droid you're looking for". I suspect that even they would love to see me fulfill my wet dream.

And believe me, I've tried. But cats in heat are more skittish than your average cat, and no matter how hard I've tried or to what lengths I've gone -- preparing pans full of water, carrying them out in to the night with a flashlight in the other hand -- I always fucking miss. Sure, they go away after mission impossible has failed yet again, but that's clearly not enough for me.

Understand, I am not intrinsically a cruel man and obviously I'm a massive cat lover...well, I love my cats anyway. Cats are like kids: You love and adore your own and want the world for them, but most everyone else's are big pains in the ass and not even remotely charming or cute.

The Morgue is now taking suggestions as to how I can accomplish my mission. Please don't suggest the water hose. That would be cheating -- like gunning down a deer with a .22 rifle. The pail and water is my bow and arrow, you see. There's a certain amount of skill involved here and after years of failure, I want to bask in a feeling of well-deserved success.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Planet Earth on Discovery

Tonight the Discovery Channel broadcasts the first 3 episodes of the 11-part BBC produced series, Planet Earth, narrated by Sigourney Weaver.

Just. Tune. In.

I get into nature documentaries about as much as the next guy, but since Jeanne received her review copies a couple weeks ago, this thing has become an obsession for me. Luckily she wrote a fantastic review for the 'Spress-News, so I don't have to. "Luckily" I say because the series tends to leave me speechless. I'm not sure how to put into words the sheer number of mind-boggling sights that have been captured by High-Def cameras for this series -- you kinda just have to tune in and see them for yourself. (The series plays on Discovery HD Theater as well, so if you've got that channel, you know what to do.)

The image above is from the "Caves" episode. It's a diver exploring an underwater cave in Mexico and the still photo doesn't do justice to the moving images you'll actually see in that sequence. Click here for an episode guide and schedule for all five weekends. (Even though it isn't listed, I think Discovery may do an all-day marathon of the series on Apr. 22nd leading up to the last two installments.)

A DVD box set available in standard def as well as both HD DVD & Blu-Ray is set for release on Apr. 24th. It will contain all manner of cool extra footage, but it will also be the original BBC version which was narrated by David Attenborough.

So if you're a fan of Ms. Weaver, the Discovery broadcasts may be your only chance to hear her spin on the narration.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Doctor Who: Animating The Invasion

George Lucas continually tinkers around with his Star Wars movies. Paramount recently began revamping the effects work for each episode of classic Star Trek. Now it’s Doctor Who’s turn to present its take on reimagining the past.

Two weeks ago saw the milestone R1 DVD release of the 1968 story "The Invasion". The 8-part serial has been missing the visuals for a fourth of its episodes – Parts One & Four – since the BBC scrapped huge chunks of the Doctor’s ‘60s adventures years ago. Why you may ask? Nobody foresaw the eventual resale value of the series, and back in the day Auntie Beeb wasn’t all that keen on reruns. Thankfully, obsessive Whovians date back to the beginning, when pockets of industrious fans presciently recorded the show’s audio every Saturday afternoon.

Enter animation house Cosgrove Hall, cleaned-up fan-recorded audio tapes, and a current demand for Doctor Who surpassing any other period in the Time Lord’s long history: "The Invasion" is complete once again – six episodes of crisp, restored black & white goodness interspersed with two animated episodes that are as close to what’s missing as anyone can currently hope to see.

"The Invasion" was an ideal selection for the experiment.

For starters, it features the Cybermen, and since the Senators of Steel have enjoyed a resurgence, they’re an obvious draw for people looking to feed their Who addiction. Furthering that logic, "The Invasion" was a huge inspiration for the recent "Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel" two-parter, which restored the Mondasian Marchers to their former glory.

Also, it’s a pretty damn good yarn -- which is no faint praise for a tale clocking in at nearly 3 ½ hours. Yet any ‘60s TV sci-fi of that duration must have problematic areas, right? The events encompassing the first four episodes could easily fit into half the running time. As a result, animating Episodes One and Four elevates material that might be considered a tad sluggish into something new and exciting -- and the kicker is that they’re animated in black & white! By the time a Cyberman bursts from its cocoon for Part Four’s cliffhanger, the proceedings kick into a higher gear and the final four parts move with a pretty intense momentum (well, by late-‘60s Who standards anyway).

Lastly, any excuse to serve eight episodes of Patrick Troughton on silver platters is more than OK by me. Back when the BBC took to scrapping ‘60s Who, Troughton’s era was hit the hardest: Only a single story ("The Tomb of the Cybermen") from his first two seasons exists in its entirety. His third and final season, however, exists as nearly complete[1], and this DVD brings the season that much closer to its original dramatic vision.

The story in brief: The Doctor and Co. arrive in present-day London (i.e. the late ‘60s/early ‘70s), realize a corporation called International Electromatics is up to no good (similar to Cybus Industries from the recent two-parter), and before long Cybermen are popping up all over the place. The most notable difference from the David Tennant outing (aside from the lack of an alternate universe setting) is IE’s head honcho, Tobias Vaughn (superbly played by Kevin Stoney): Unlike John Lumic, he isn’t creating Cybermen, but rather working with them to take over Earth. When the plan sours, Vaughn dedicates his final actions toward revenge against the “uninteresting metal men” [2]. The story also set up the Jon Pertwee-era template by reintroducing Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney), unveiling UNIT and testing the waters for a series set in a contemporary Earthbound setting – it could be argued that it’s a major ancestor of the current series. "The Invasion" paved the way for ‘70s Doctor Who and as such is something of a benchmark.

Due to the massive success of this DVD (it sold bucketloads in the UK), many a fan is calling for more -- and with good reason: If this was the test run, then the sky’s the limit. There’s no reason the other 106 missing episodes couldn’t, over time, be animated in the same manner. Indeed, many feel "The Invasion’s" animated segments engage more than the original taped episodes! One can only assume the Cosgrove Hall team (as well as Mark Ayres’ exceptional audio restorations) will only get better as they move forward[3].

I’d like to see a few more trial runs via completing stories that exist in "Invasion"-like limbos before aiming for completely lost epics such as "The Power of the Daleks" or "Marco Polo". The next logical choice would be "The Tenth Planet" -- William Hartnell’s final story. The four-parter introduced the Cybermen to the series and lacks only one episode: Part Four -- in which the Doctor regenerated for the very first time; the Cosgrove Hall animators would have a field day with that sequence.

The problem with a lot of ‘60s Who is that it’s often very slow. I challenge anyone to watch all six episodes of "The Seeds of Death" without at some point screaming at their TV, “Get the fuck on with it already!!” There are even parts of "The Invasion" that could benefit from some simple audio editing. As wonderful as "The Invasion" results are, what would viewing an entire animated adventure feel like? A unique situation has arisen.

Let’s take, for instance, Troughton’s "Fury from the Deep" – six episodes, all lost and considered a missing classic. I once tried to listen to an audiotape release and admittedly didn’t get all the way through it (but the novelization rocked!). Would animating a nearly 2 ½ hour serial be the thrill ride it sounds? 2 ½ hours with pacing dictated by low-budget ‘60s TV constraints?? This is borderline heresy, but what if the audio was edited into a tighter form retaining the meat of the material and was then animated? What if "Fury from the Deep" was better with a 1 hour and 45 minute running time? One of many ongoing jokes about old Doctor Who involves the endless running around corridors. Episodes had to be 25 minutes, and sometimes padding was required to make the half hour each week. Why animate corridor scenes with banal dialogue? Why not cut [to] the chase? Because then you’re mucking about with a legacy, and there’ll inevitably be an uproar when somebody (or likely many bodies) shouts that history is being rewritten. But isn’t animating this stuff in the first place already a rewrite of sorts? How about the cost of animating minute upon minute of boring filler material? What about the probability that it may actually be more cost effective to produce a better and more engaging story with a shorter running time?

Animating the missing "Invasion" parts in black & white and in full was a smart first move – they match the other six episodes, offer up the nearest to what's been lost and please all but the most anal fan. But when it comes time to animate a full story, why not go for color? (It’s hardly comparable to Turnerizing It’s a Wonderful Life.) Is that too messing with history?

Another classic in need of an overhaul is Hartnell’s "The Celestial Toymaker" (Michael "Alfred" Gough guests as the titular baddie), a four-parter missing its first three installments. Here’s a story that not only begs to be animated in color, but should probably even have its final episode animated as well (present the original Part Four as an “extra”). Why view three episodes of slick cartoons only to end on a clunky black and white finale? Where does reverence for original material end and presenting the most engaging DVD begin?

This animating of missing Doctor Who has opened up a slew of possibilities that all need to be explored before just going for the obvious slavish devotion to history. And with eyes focused on the future, what exactly is history? Aren’t all the missing episodes currently (in the slang usage of the term) “history”?

[1] Aside from the two missing parts of "The Invasion", Troughton’s final season lacks only five episodes of the six-parter "The Space Pirates". Based on the narrative quality of Part Two (recently released in the "Lost in Time" DVD collection), we aren’t missing out on much.

[2] Credit due to Sheik Yerbootie for the phrase “uninteresting metal men”. I’ve been unable to shake the description since he first coined it.

[3] Credit must also be given to The Restoration Team (of which Mark Ayres is a member). Without all the fine work these guys have done restoring Doctor Who episodes from all eras to their former glory, it’s doubtful this animated revolution would even be happening. Further details on the DVD release of "The Invasion" can be found on their site.

Friday, March 09, 2007

007 in '007: Diamonds are Forever

Diamonds are Forever begins with a faceless figure beating the crap out of a couple different guys over a couple quick scenes – all he wants to know is how to find Blofeld. In the third scene of the sequence, the figure’s face is revealed to be that of Sean Connery, and he isn’t much nicer to the babe at the pool than the other guys. Diamonds follows On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, which ended with the murder of Bond’s (George Lazenby) new bride Tracy (Diana Rigg) at the hands of Blofeld (Telly Savalas).

Clearly this was a defining moment in Bond’s life, but with Diamonds the lead role shifted back to Connery, and in doing so the producers seem unsure about how to address the tragedy. The pre-credits sequence seemingly straddles the fence: The upfront, violent inquisitions are for the viewer who wants to pick up where the last film left off -- Bond is on a rampage and wants revenge…and yet Tracy is never mentioned. The viewer who’d rather forget the previous events (or is simply not privy to them) is free to do so: Maybe James is just tired of Blofeld’s shenanigans and wants to put an end to the cat and mouse nonsense?

Which he seemingly does -- by dumping Blofeld (now played by Charles “No Neck” Gray) into a pit of lavalike mud. Then the cat meows and we hear Shirley Bassey for the first time since Goldfinger

Diamonds are forever,
Sparkling round my little finger.
Unlike men, the diamonds linger.
Men are mere mortals who
Are not worth going to your grave for.

I’ve got a huge soft spot (somewhere between my legs) for Diamonds are Forever. It’s the first Bond flick I ever saw, and that network airing left a big impression on the 9 or 10-year old me[1]. Despite being blissfully unaware it was part of a larger picture, afterwards I somehow didn’t miss any future airings of Bond flicks.

Les Girls: Once again, the central Bond babe knocks it out of the park. Jill St. John’s Tiffany Case is a highlight of the proceedings. As is the case (ahem…) with the rest of the film’s components, Tiffany’s part is greater than the whole. As the first American Bond girl, she trumps many a U.S.-based successor by believably taking care of herself, whilst at the same time not really being the sharpest crayon in the box. Tiffany is something of a survivor, due in no small part to her sizzling sex appeal and easy-going demeanor, and given the body count in Diamonds, that’s noteworthy. Allow me some bluntness: Miss Case may well be the most bangable Bond girl of them all, which is no trivial honor.

Bond first meets Tiffany in her apartment where she gives him this funny little (completely gratuitous) fashion show, sporting various wigs and negligees. Her hair color & style change each time she exits and reenters the room:

Bond: “Weren’t you a blonde when I came in?”
Tiffany: “Could be.”
Bond: “I tend to notice little things like that – whether a girl’s a blonde or a brunette.”
Tiffany: “And which do you prefer?”
Bond: “Oh, providing the collars and cuffs match…”

A bit later there’s this priceless reaction:

Bond: “That’s quite a nice little nothing you’re almost wearing. I approve.”

Even James seems mildly taken aback by her audacity. If Diana Rigg’s Tracy was the culmination of the ‘60s girls, then Tiffany is a sound jumping-off point for the girls of the ‘70s. In the hands of a lesser actress, Tiffany probably wouldn’t come off nearly as sparkling as she does. For all of John’s assuredness and appeal, how she really sells Case is with her easy-going sense of humor. She really gets Bond, and seems to understand the fly-by-night nature of his being: Tiffany’s having fun for as long as the fun might last.

Also skimping about in various states of bimbocity is Lana Wood’s Plenty O’Toole – great character name and nice to look at, but not much else. And who can forget the combo of Bambi and Thumper, the sexy pair of guards James tussles with outside of billionaire Willard Whyte’s (Jimmy Dean) “prison”? Last but not least, there’s Mrs. Whistler (Margaret Lacey) -- possibly the oldest Bond girl in the series -- a sweet old lady masquerading as a teacher who’s really part of the diamond smuggling ring. She, like Plenty before her, ends up sleeping with the fishes. (OK, maybe she doesn't count, but I couldn't resist mentioning the woman who was probably Whistler's mother.)

Zee Henchmen: And who’s in charge of executing nearly every noteworthy (i.e. creative) death? Mr. Wint (Bruce Glover, father of all that is Crispin) and Mr. Kidd (Putter Smith, a jazz bassist with no prior acting experience). Some say that Wint & Kidd are an ambiguously gay duo -- I say they’re watching the movie with their eyes closed. There’s no way that Wint & Kidd are anything but heaping tablespoonfuls of Queer as Folk. Dare I mix some hackneyed Seinfeld standbys? “Not that there’s anything blah, blah, blah.” Props must be given to whomever’s idea it was for these guys to have a gay old time; this wasn’t the norm back in ’71 and in fact things have come so far in the other direction, it’s difficult to imagine it flying today.

I love Wint & Kidd because they love what they do. They’re not even particularly mean about it; the pair just matter of factly take delight in offing one person after the next. I could watch an entire movie detailing the antics of Wint & Kidd; it’d be like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead only funny.

Zee Villain: Only a dyed-in-the-fishnet Rocky Horror nut would choose Charles Gray as his favorite Blofeld; add in worship of The Devil Rides Out and the deal’s sealed. After the Pleasance & Savalas incarnations (as well as the “unseen” Blofeld from the earlier films), Gray’s casting seems borderline ridiculous -- the guy’s suddenly got a full head of hair and has lost any sort of imposing demeanor or freak factor. He’s this prissy dandy about to explode in a ball of flame at any second. Diamonds are his hangup, fer christsakes!!! Certainly no other Blofeld would’ve hired Wint & Kidd to do his evil bidding. Queerest of all? The baffling intimation that Miss Case shacks up with him to save her skin in the third act. Maybe he’s just keeping up appearances? Tiffany’s certainly got the style, class and wit to play fag hag should the situation demand it.

All supposition aside, fact remains it’s Charles flippin’ Gray. His Blofeld demands no exploration due to the actor alone. He stands apart from all other Blofelds, and it’s no wonder the series closed the curtain on the character after Diamonds (aside from a brief cameo in For Yours Eyes Only) -- Gray killed it for any actor who might have come afterwards. Who else can deliver--with panache--this sort of tongue-in-cheek nonsense?:

Blofeld: “The satellite is at present over…Kansas. Well, if we destroy Kansas the world may not hear about it for years.”

Tuneage & Credits Sequence: Of Bassey’s three Bond tunes, Diamonds are Forever is easily my favorite. It’s a sexy, cool number that slinks along, doing exactly what it’s supposed to do, which is set a tone for the film to come. Binder’s credits sequence also gets the job done, but ultimately feels as if it’s going through the motions: Diamonds, Blofeld’s pussy, the standard cache of scantily clad women and not much more.

Bond, James Bond: So what of Sean Connery in his official series swansong? Assessing his performance as bored or lackluster (which is where I was inclined to head) just doesn’t seem right. It’s Sean Connery, and of the three primary Bonds, he delivers the tightest goods upon exiting the franchise. There’s certainly never the impression that he’s done all he can with the role or that it’s past time for him to go (unlike, say, Moore in A View to a Kill). And yet the franchise itself had probably done all it could with Connery.

Diamonds are Forever is not an especially good film (by Bond standards anyway), and when compared to the Connery flicks that preceded it, it comes up laughable. When compared to the Sean-less movie that preceded it, it comes up insulting. (Do Bond flicks tend to polar react to the films that preceded them?) For all the missiles fired at the Moore era, one need look no further than Diamonds to see the campiest sides of James Bond originated here. Much of the blame can likely be laid at the feet of co-screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz, who seems the logical candidate for the camping up of Bond. He continued variations of the trend with Live and Let Die and The Man with The Golden Gun and pretty much developed the template for the Moore era. One of the dumbest trends that started on Mankiewicz’s watch is the placing of 007 into stupid, cumbersome vehicles in which he’s forced to engage in ludicrous chase scenes – here it’s a moon buggy.

But maybe, as the first Bond flick of the ‘70s, that’s how it should be. Diamonds feels transitional; maybe even like a Moore flick that Connery’s been plopped down into the middle of. Had it starred Moore, he’d have the necessary doubletakes to pull it off. With Connery, it too often seems out of time and place and it’s no wonder he didn’t return for Live and Let Die, despite being offered what at the time was considered a small fortune.

The movie was allegedly a conscious revamp of the series for the American market and as such it’s a success. If James Bond is going to do America, Las Vegas (the primary locale) is the perfect fit. The movie, like Vegas, is gawdy, over-the-top and features silly one-liners, bad puns, ridiculous chase scenes, the words “goddamn” & “bitch” and some fairly excessive violence. I remain grateful that--despite numerous considerations--the series has never cast an American as James himself...

[1] Time for a Bond talkback game! Aside from popping my Bond cherry, Diamonds are Forever also came out in December of 1971 -- when I was about a month old. This, of course, means nothing to most readers, but it means a little something to me. Most people under the age of 45 can figure out the Bond flick that was most likely in the public consciousness around the time they were born. If you were born in or around either ‘67 or ‘83 you get the added bonus of claiming two flicks. If however, like my kid, you were ushered into the world in the early ‘90s, you’re sorta screwed.