Dress Down Sunday: Diamonds Are Forever by Ian Fleming


published 1956


LOOKING AT WHAT GOES ON UNDER THE CLOTHES



diamonds are Forever 2


Bond walked into the small living-room and closed the door behind him.

‘Lock it,’ said the voice. It came from the bedroom. Bond did as he was told and walked across the middle of the room until he was opposite the open bedroom door. As he passed the portable long-player on the writing desk the pianist began on ‘La Ronde’.

She was sitting, half-naked, astride a chair in front of the dressing-table, gazing across the back of the chair into the triple mirror. Her bare arms were folded along the tall back of the chair and her chin was resting on her arms. Diamonds are Forever 1Her spine was arched, and there was arrogance in the set of her head and shoulders. The black string of her brassiere across the naked back, the tight black lace pants and the splay of her legs whipped at Bond’s senses.

The girl raised her eyes from looking at her face and inspected him in the mirror, briefly and coolly.

‘I guess you’re the new help,’ she said in a low, rather husky voice that made no commitment. ‘Take a seat and enjoy the music. Best light record ever made.’ Bond was amused.
 

commentary: Next one along, the fourth of Ian Fleming’s original James Bond novels. See labels below for the others.

I didn’t enjoy it as much as the earlier ones, although there was a lot going for it: that entrancing title, settings that jump all over the place, an interesting plot regarding diamond smuggling. The woman above is Tiffany Case, Bond’s theoretical boss as he pretends to be a low-level criminal – she is somewhat more of a positive figure than some Bond girls.

The action moves from London to New York to the races at Saratoga and on to some mudbaths nearby. Next there’s a trip to Las Vegas, then out to a crime centre in the desert, before the main participants end up on the liner the Queen Elizabeth travelling back to England. There is a framing of action in French Guinea and Sierra Leone, which comes over all David Attenborough with a man in khaki shorts looking at a scorpion, but also still very reminiscent of Biggles, as I have said so often before.

At one point Bond is pretending to be both a criminal and a policeman in the same case, which does seem a mistake. And Ian Fleming shares the view with 
Agatha Christie that it is easy to make someone unrecognizable with a few small changes – it was moustaches in Moonraker, here:
A touch of white at the temples. The scar gone. A hint of studiousness at the corners of the eyes and mouth. The faintest shadows under the cheekbones. Nothing you could put your finger on, but it all added up to someone who certainly wasn’t James Bond.
No instructions are given as to how you add ‘a hint of studiousness’ to a face – perhaps that’s classified info.

The attack in the mudbaths is fairly sensational – a foreshadowing of events in Thunderball. And the Las Vegas details are fascinating – the resort was really getting going in the mid-50s, but Fleming could safely assume that most of his readers had not been there, and were interested in a lot of detail. Now that detail is sociological history. I particularly loved this:
the blackjack dealers were pretty women and that they were all dressed in the same smart Western outfit in grey and black – short grey skirt with a wide black metal-studded belt, grey blouse with a black handkerchief round the neck, a grey sombrero hanging down the back by a black cord, black half-Wellingtons over flesh-coloured nylons.
Wellingtons! The security men also wear Wellingtons. Children’s heroine Katie Morag will be sure of a job doing one or the other when she grows up.

Bond’s relationship with his superior officer, M, is beyond description. In this book James Bond actually says this:
‘Matter of fact I’m almost married already. To a man. Name begins with M. I’d have to divorce him before I tried marrying a woman. And I’m not sure I’d want that...’
At this point I think we’ll tiptoe away and move on to the next book.

Black underwear was seen as rather racy in the 50s, so it is quite hard to find respectable pictures. These are both filmstars: Elke Sommer, and Janet Leigh (in Psycho – the black underwear is generally supposed to be a symbol of her criminal behaviour).

The musician in the extract above, by the way, is George Feyer, as Tiffany tells Bond. The name of the record is not given in the book: deep research by Clothes in Books has obtained the info for you that it is called Echoes of Paris, easily available as a download. It is pleasant enough listening (my commitment to my readers knows no bounds) but I don’t share Tiffany’s view that it’s the best light record ever made.















Comments

  1. Yes, I think it's probably best to tiptoe away from that comment, too, Moira. That and the Wellingtons. Still, I do like the different locales in these novels; it adds a touch of glamour, I think.

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    1. Indeed - and those choices are still glamorous all these years later. And the books are full of unexpected things...

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  2. I have just finished Live and Let Die. A very interesting book. I like that they are quick reads. The movie will be coming from Netflix soonish to watch. And on top of that we just watched Spectre last night. The later movies have improved in the sexism area but still focus a lot on sex and beautiful people. Not my favorite Daniel Craig Bond film but maybe not the worst. Not sure.

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    1. As I work my way through the books, I really think I will have to start watching the films too.

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  3. DAF is a bit of a curate's egg. It has some enjoyable bits, but it never quite gells into a novel. Fleming seems to have done some research on diamond smuggling and been loathe to waste it. The problem is that there is no real need for Bond to be involved. It's a crime novel, and despite M telling 007 that MI6 needs to be involved, you never really believe it. The fact that the villains are basically hoods also means that they aren't particularly interesting. After someone like Mr. Big or Drax, the Spangled Mob don't stick in the memory. Plus, it's hard to work up much suspense on whether the diamond smuggling can be stopped.

    Like you say, though, the set-pieces are really vivid. The picture of Las Vegas is filled with loathing. There is the description of the women feeding money into the slot-machines, responding like Pavlov's dogs whenever the bell rings to tell them that they've won the jackpot. Bond and Fleming are both old school, and the idea of cheap people in leisure wear gambling is rather beyond the pale!

    Tiffany is one of my favourite Bond girls. She just seems more fully rounded a character. In a lot of ways she is the female counterpoint of Bond, being tough, resilient, clever but very emotionally damaged. The relationship between her and Bond is much more real than some of them.

    Janet Leigh in black underwear was still shocking when PSYCHO came out, and I can see her in some alternate-universe version of DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER. She would have made a fascinating Tiffany.

    If you're really interested in the Bond/M romance, then try the wonderful spoof by Cyril Connolly 'Bond Strikes Camp'. It must be on the internet somewhere.

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    1. Thanks, yes, I'm glad it wasn't just me finding this one a lesser entry. But yes, Tiffany Case was a good heroine. And I will certainly try to find the Connolly - he's a writer I like anyway.

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  4. Half-Wellingtons? Surely Fleming had heard of cowboy boots!

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    1. You can only conclude that he hadn't, which is weird isn't it? Kind of endearingly provincial to call them Wellingtons - a phrase that isn't in use in the USA anyway, I think, is that right?

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  5. Moira: Fleming had trouble describing women blackjack dealers in the 1950's because, according to Resort City in the Sunbelt: Las Vegas, 1930-2000 by Eugene P. Moehring, there were no regular women blackjack dealers on the Strip or downtown until the 1970's.

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    1. Great catch Bill - and very interesting. As I've been reading Fleming's letters, I know that he rather enjoyed getting that kind of correction from readers.

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  6. This is the one that I seem least able to remember in point of fact - so thanks for the much-needed reminder Moira!

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    1. I know I have read it before, but I too remembered almost nothing. It made it quite exciting!

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    1. ... but you will have to get to Fleming sooner or later...

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  8. Moira, this was the first Bond movie I saw, way back in my teens. I never thought of reading the book till after I read your post.

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    1. I hope you do read it, would love to read your view on the Fleming books.

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  9. my name Lysend Sahr , i am serre leon and i reside in a routine village, i am in possesion of some diamonds which i go from from an ecavated area in my village, i have them in bulk and i would like to inform the general public about this.. contact me on lysendsahr@gmail.com i want to sell these diamonds for the upkeep of some uneducated citizens in my region

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