The stakes were high. Despite the satisfactory box office performance of On Her Majesty's Secret Service it was felt that Bond audiences wanted their hero to go back to basics.
(A major double-bill of Thunderball
released barely six months after O.H.M.S.S.
had underlined a hankering for classic 007 with its sell-out shows.)
So it was a gamble. And where better to try to beat the tables than Las Vegas, the casino capital of America?
To stack the odds in Bond’s favour, Sean Connery was back (Batman’s Adam West was considered) on a colossal £1.2m fee and so was director Guy Hamilton, who – it was hoped – would bring back the “Goldfinger” touch.
In a slick pre-credit sequence, Bond avenges the murder of his wife by killing Blofeld (Gray) at a clinic where a number of clones of the villain have been undergoing plastic surgery.
Personal revenge satisfied, he is sent to Amsterdam to impersonate a diamond smuggler who M (Bernard Lee) believes is involved in a scam to stockpile South African sparklers and depress market prices.
The trail leads from launderer Tiffany Case (Jill St John) to Las Vegas where Bond learns the true nature of the deception: Blofeld – who survived his earlier deadly attentions – plans to use the smuggled diamonds to built a lethal laser satellite.
Adopting a more humorous tone than its predecessors, this is packed – some would say overstuffed - to the gunwhales with risqué quips:
Bond: “I tend to notice…whether a girl is a blonde or brunette”
Tiffany: “And which do you prefer?”
Bond: “Well, as long as the collars and cuffs match…”
It also boasts the splendidly camp killers Mr Wint and Mr Kidd (Bruce Glover and Putter Smith), a pair of butch assassins who accompany every slaying with a delicately-delivered aphorism.
Gray - with his fruity thespian drawl and cigarette holder - was the most elegant Blofeld yet and a bikinied St John (who could count Henry Kissinger among her conquests - strange girl) cut the mustard as the obligatory Bond girl.
It all ended in tried and trusted fashion – this time an explosive finale on an oil rig – but along the way had time for a splendid car chase – the famous “Mustang-on-two-wheels-scene" - among the Vegas casinos as well as a bruising brush with the desert mafia.
Even at this stage product placement was on the menu – Ford stipulated their vehicles were used – but, on the plus side, Shirley Bassey re-teamed with John Barry for the glittering theme song.
Even at 115 minutes, it seemed a bit too long with an overextended climax. Yet – compared to what was to come – this was a diamond that shone.