Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Bond Girl Venus 1: Lana Wood - Diamonds are Forever

There are, of course, three types of Bond girl: the principal female lead (Ursula Andress, Jane Seymour, Eva Green), the secondary character who may be a brief dalliance for Bond, a villainess or  is killed off (or all three) (Shirley Eaton, Karin Dor, Talisa Soto) and the background girls who usually loll about the villain's lair.  The latter category often included many of the top models and starlets of the day.  Initially, these tended to be British but later on they became far more international.

The first real appearance of such a group was in On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969) where, as Blofeld's angels of death, they were at least relevant to the plot, as opposed to being mobile set dressing as seen in the later Roger Moore films.  The group from OHMSS included an impressive roster of British-based glamour girls including Julie Ege, Jenny Hanley, Anoushka Hempel, Catherine von Schell and a very young Joanna Lumley.

To start with, however, we are going to look at a fine example from category 2; the secondary character.  Plenty O'Toole (the name is typical of this most knowingly arch of Bond films) played by the pneumatic Lana Wood who, as everyone knows, was Natalie Wood's sister.

Diamonds are Forever (1971) is an odd part of the James Bond canon and is almost like one of those Bond spoofs from the sixties such as the James Coburn Flint films or the Dean Martin Matt Helm series.  It was Connery's return after the single film appearance of George Lazenby and he was being paid the highest amount ever paid to a film actor up until that point.  Made on a tight budget (Connery's $1.2 million pay contributed to this, no doubt) with much of it shot in the US at the insistence of the producers, who wanted to keep tight control over the shooting, it arguably set the model for the Roger Moore films with its increasing use of knowing humour.   

Lana (left) and Natalie Wood

Lana Wood was born Svetlana Nikolaevna Gurdin to Russian emigre parents.  They had changed their surname to Gurdin from the original Zacharaenko and moved to Santa Monica where Lana was born on March 1st 1946. Lana's first film role was playing the same character at a younger age as her older sister Natalie in Johns Ford's The Searchers (1956).  Natalie had already chosen the name "Wood" as her stage name and Lana decided to take the same stage name as well.

A young Lana

She often appeared in walk on roles in her sister's films but by the mid sixties had started to make regular TV appearances as well as appearing in small parts in films like The Girls on the Beach (1965).  More TV roles followed including a fourteen month run in Peyton Place.

In 1970 she was personally approached by Hugh Hefner, who had seen her in Peyton Place, to appear in Playboy. Thinking this would increase her profile she agreed and her pictorial appeared in the April 1971 issue, accompanied by some of her own poetry.  Her sister, Natalie, was horrified but the subsequent press attention gave her all the publicity she had hoped for.

The piece in Playboy said that although Lana had been on film sets with her sister since the age of nine it wasn't until she won a part on Dr Kildare in 1964 that she decided to take acting seriously.

Sadly, her Playboy pictorial only featured five pictures but several of them, as you would expect, made the most of her most prominent assets.

She was offered another Playboy pictorial after Diamonds are Forever was released but she turned it down, sadly.

Utterly splendid!

Bond producer Cubby Broccoli saw the issue and contacted her about a role in Diamonds are Forever. Originally the producers had intended that she be considered for the role of Tiffany Case (eventually played by an annoying Jill St John) but although St John got the role the producers liked Lana so much they offered her the smaller part of Plenty.  This, we feel, was a shame and we think she would have made a better lead woman than the shrill St John.

We first see Lana in a Las Vegas casino in a jaw dropping purple dress.  Having dumped her previous man she soon hooks up with Connery's Bond.  Dumping men was something Wood knew about as she had been married and divorced five times before the age of twenty nine!

Her chemistry with Connery is palpable.  Not only had she known Connery before they made the film but she started having an affair with him during the shooting of the scenes in Las Vegas. When she checked into her hotel before filming began she found that her suite wasn't ready.  Connery gallantly suggested she come up to his in the meantime...  Worthy of Bond himself, that one, which is why Connery is Bond.

Unfortunately, some of Lana's scenes were cut from the film and one of these follows her scene at the craps table (where she was required to lean forward over the table a lot).  She is seen having dinner with Bond in the casino restaurant before inviting herself up to his room.

Next follows the famous scene where Connery unzips her dress leaving her in just a pair of see-through knickers.  Lana was only 5'3" tall and had to stand on a box for some of her scenes with Connery although she relied on very high heels for this full length shot.

Lana on set in the bedroom scene

At this point she excuses herself, only to be literally picked up by the bad guys who have been tailing Bond around the casino.  

They throw her out of the window where she lands in the swimming pool.   This is the last we see of her alive in the final cut of the film. She later said of this scene:   "I was told that I was going to be thrown in basically naked, but they told me not to worry because they were going to do it in the middle of the night.  And it's Las Vegas! Half the world's up in the middle of the night! There were all these people trying to get a look at me from their windows!"

Behind the scenes shot of Wood and crew members with Tiffany Case's handbag

However, in another cut scene, she returns to the bedroom, dripping wet and dressed in a towel, only to catch Bond with Tiffany Case.  She rifles through Case's handbag and discovers her address.  This explains a key issue we experience slightly later in the film which makes no sense otherwise. 

This is the scene where Bond and Case discover Plenty drowned in Case's swimming pool wearing a daringly see-through dress for a Bond film.  Only the existence of the cut scene where she discovers Case's address in her handbag makes this scene logical.

Wood would eventually make around 20 films and appear in more than 300 TV episodes but  nothing had the impact of her appearance in Diamonds are Forever.

Mercy me!

Although she continued to work in TV and films for ten years after Diamonds are Forever she only did a few roles after the death of Natalie in 1981.

After 1985 she didn't appear on screen for over twenty years although since 2008 she has been quite active again.

In 1986 she wrote a book, Natalie, A Memoir by her Sister, which was hugely controversial and alienated her own family as well as Robert Wagner, Natalie's husband who refused to let their children have anything to do with Lana.

Lana has never subscribed to the Robert Wagner killed Natalie Wood theorists and just commented that her sister had drunk too much on the night she fell off Wagner's yacht near Catalina Island.

Anyway, we think that Lana was a memorable Bond girl and we recall that when we saw the film at the cinema as a twelve year old it was certainly the first time we had really registered breasts.  We had just started senior school and the film was released in the UK 31st December 1971 so we would have seen it in January 1972.  We remember discussing it with some classmates who liked the pre-title sequence where Bond strangles a girl with her own bikini top (the first visible nipples in a Bond film and the cause of much excitement at school), Maurice Binder's particularly sexy title sequence and "that girl in the dress".

So fresh and perky!

So dark and sultry!

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